Speleological Wonders

A few days ago I came across this short 360° video from the The New York Times about how biologist Naowarat Cheeptham has been searching for antibiotics in a cave.

It’s an interesting story, and there’s a lot more about it in this article from Wired.
Inside the slimy underground hunt for humanity’s antibiotic saviour (Tom Ward, Wired)

What I didn’t expect was that a two minute excursion into a cave would turn into a fascinating journey into speleology. One thing just led to another, and that’s what happened.

It all started because the video and story about the cave reminded of my own experiences in Mammoth Cave. It’s in Kentucky, and I grew up in Indy — it wasn’t that far away, so I visited it numerous times over the years.

In case you’ve never been, here’s a quick peek from CBS Sunday Morning.

Each visit was a bit different, but the one thing that I remember most was that Mammoth Cave was billed as the largest cave on Earth. After many hours of tours, it felt like it, too.

Ha, what I saw hardly scratched the surface!

It was a bit mind-bending when they zoomed out to show the true scale of the place. Yet that was nothing compared to what I tripped across next.

It turns out that Mammoth Cave was the largest cave, but it’s not anymore.

That honor now belongs to Son Doong Cave in Vietnam. It was “discovered” in 1991, but it wasn’t really explored until 2009. Wow, it’s positively Verne’esque — it even has a jungle!

Here’s a quick clip about how photographer and journalist Martin Edström went on a 360° photo expedition into the cave for National Geographic back in 2016.


Here’s a link to an interactive website where you can explore the results of the expedition.
Son Doong 360: Exploring the World’s Longest Cave (Martin Edström, National Geographic)

Here’s another piece from Good Morning America with some awesome drone footage.

It’s worth noting that there are tensions surrounding tourism at Son Doong Cave. Here are links to a two part 360° video series from RYOT about the issue.
Saving Son Doong: Part One (YouTube)
Saving Son Doong: Part Two (YouTube)

While it is hard to top Son Doong, I came across a number of other speleological marvels in my unexpected journey.

For example, speaking of Verne, here’s some drone footage of a gorgeous ice cave in Vatnajokull National Park on the south coast of Iceland.

Here’s a 360° video of another ice cave under Pemberton Icefield in British Columbia. Not surprisingly, the lifespan of such wonders in our current climate also comes up in the video.

Here’s yet another 360° video by AirPano that shows a breathtaking time lapse of a sunset looking out of an ice cave at Baikal in Russia.

Ice caves can be mesmerizing to look at, but there is a Giant Crystal Cave in Mexico made out of gypsum instead of ice that might be even more impressive to see. Unfortunately, you can’t. Luckily there’s a nice video that shows a bit of what it looks like as well as explains why you really don’t want to see it in person.


Yes, there really are weird life forms in Crystal Cave!
Weird life found trapped in giant underground crystals (Victoria Jaggard, National Geographic)

I was bummed that I couldn’t find great footage of Crystal Cave or closeups of the odd life. However, while searching for that, I did find this fun 360° video of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand.


The Waitomo Glowworm Caves even have a whole YouTube channel dedicated to them!
Waitomo Glowworm Caves (YouTube Channel)

Near the end of my unexpected detour into caves, I found this neat 360° video and lesson from TED-Ed about ancient cave paintings. It’s about art, creativity and communication, all near and dear to my heart, so I couldn’t resist sharing it.


Explore cave paintings in this 360° animated cave (Iseult Gillespie, TED-Ed)

Finally, my unexpected journey ended with this fun, semi-off-topic, discovery 🙂

I hope you’ve enjoyed this speleological detour as much as I did. If you want to continue exploring caves on your own, here are some resources to get you started.
From the Biggest to the Longest, Five Amazing Caves To Visit (Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian.com)
Hidden Earth: The UK’s National Caving Conference and Exhibition
National Speleological Society

Find out more about Earth and its geology