Glossary of Speleological and Caving Terms
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Copyright © Australian Speleological Federation Inc. 2002

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SAFETY LINE A safety rope attached to a climber in addition to the main rope or ladder.
Climbing and SRT. Ref JJ
SALT WEATHERING Detachment of particles from a rock surface by the growth of crystals from salt solutions. A feature of the Nullarbor and other desert caves.
Processes. Ref JJ
SANDSTONE CAVE A cave formed in sandstone.
Cave - Kinds of. Ref MM
SAPROPHAGE A scavenger feeding on decaying organic material.
Cave - Biota. Ref JJ
SATURATED Water which has dissolved as much limestone or other material as it can under the prevailing conditions.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
SATURATED ZONE The zone below the water table, composed of shallow, deep (bathyphreatic) and stagnant phreatic zones. Syn. Phreatic zone.
Hydrology terms. Ref AC
SCALE The ratio of the length between any 2 points on a map to the actual distance between the same points on the ground or in a cave.
Survey & Mapping term. Ref JJ
SCALING CHIP A small, thin, flat piece of limestone that has fallen from the ceiling or wall of a cave. May be the result of Salt weathering, a cave breakdown process.
Cave - Erosional & Solutional Features. Ref WM
SCALING POLE A light weight pole, often in short sections and assembled where used, to raise a ladder to points inaccessible by climbing.
Climbing and SRT. Ref JJ
SCALLOP Current markings that intersect to form points which are directed downstream.
Cave - Erosional & Solutional Features. Ref JJ
SCAT Faecal pellets or animal droppings, which may provide an important source of food in caves.
Fauna. Ref MM
SCAVENGER An animal that eats dead remains and wastes of other animals and plants. cf coprophage, necrophage, saprophage.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
SCORIA Refers to the angular pebble-sized frothy fragments that have solidified while flying through the air. Lapilli is a more general term for pebble to granule sized ejecta. Finer material is referred to as ash, and coarser fragments as bombs or blocks.
Lava Cave term. Ref KG
SCROGGIN Food, being high energy food eaten by cavers etc consisting of nuts, dried fruit, lollies, chocolate pieces etc.
Miscellaneous terms. Ref MM
SEA CAVE A cave in present day or emerged sea cliffs, formed most commonly by wave attack but may have been formed by the usual karst solution processes. In karst areas, a 'normal' cave may be exposed then modified by marine action.
Cave - Kinds of. Ref JJ
SECTION A map of a cave in a vertical plane, that shows the floor and roof lines.
Survey & Mapping term. Ref JJ
SEDIMENT Material deposited by water ice or wind or precipitated from water.
Cave - Erosional & Solutional Features. Ref JJ
SEEPAGE WATER Syn. Percolation water.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
SELENITE A crystalline form of gypsum.
Mineral, Rock and Chemical terms. Ref JJ
SHAFT A vertical cavity that is deeper than it is wide, and roughly circular in cross section. Wider than a chimney.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
SHAWL A simple triangular shaped curtain.
Cave - Depositional Features. Ref JJ
SHIELD A speleothem consisting of 2 parallel plates separated by a medial planal crack. Forms by water seeping through the medial crack. Cf Stegamite.
Cave - Depositional Features. Ref HF
SHOW CAVE A cave that has been made accessible to the public for guided visits.
Cave - Kinds of. Ref JJ
SINGLE ROPE TECHNIQUE The practice of climbing up and down ropes with the help of ascenders and descenders. Abbr. SRT.
Climbing and SRT. Ref JJ
SINK A place where a surface water course disappears underground. Also known as 'streamsink'.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref KG
SINKHOLE In Australia, used for sites of sinking water in a karst area. Sinkholes also include Swallets. Note that in USA the term is, by long established usage, synonymous with the term DOLINE, in the broader sense.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref AC
SINTER A mineral precipitate deposited by a mineral spring, either hot or cold. Calcareous sinter is also called tufa, travertine or onyx marble.
Cave - Depositional Features. Ref WM
SIPHON A waterfilled passage of inverted U profile which delivers a flow of water whenever the upstream head rises above the top of the U.
Cave - Parts of. Ref JJ
SLING A joined loop of rope or tape.
Climbing and SRT. Ref JJ
SOIL CONE A conical pile of soil (and material filtering down from the surface) accumulates on the floor of a cave beneath fissures and pipes in the ceiling.
Cave - Erosional & Solutional Features. Ref MM
SOLIFLUCTION Usually relates to the slow movement or flow of saturated soil or rock fragment masses down slopes and may be applied to subaqueous flowage.
Hydrology terms. Ref MM
SOLUTION In chemical solution, weak acids take part especially carbonic acid H2CO3, formed by dissolved carbon dioxide.
Processes. Ref JJ
SOLUTION In karst rocks particularly, the change of bedrock from solid to liquid state by combination with water. In physical solution, ions of rock go directly into solution without transformation.
Processes. Ref JJ
SOLUTION DOLINE A doline formed by solution processes and not modified by collapse.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref MM
SOLUTION FLUTE An English term for some forms of Karren, generally equivalent to Rillenkarren. A solution hollow running down the maximum slope of the rock, of uniform width & depth, with sharp ribs between it and its neighbours. Often 1-2cm wide & deep.
Karst - Minor Forms of. Ref JJ
SOLUTION PAN A dish shaped depression on a flat, horizontal rock surface. Sides may overhang. sYN. Kamenitza.
Karst - Minor Forms of. Ref JJ
SOLUTION PIPE A vertical cylindrical shaft, often about 0.5 m across and up to 20 m deep, which is a characteristic of syngenetic karst areas. See Blowhole.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref KG
SOLUTION RUNNEL A larger solution flute that may increase in size down its length.
Karst - Minor Forms of. Ref JJ
SOLUTION TUBE May equate to blowhole, but solution tubes are often filled with sediment, which falls to a cave floor and forms a mound.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref JJ
SPATTER Molten material that was ejected from a vent or turbulent flow and which stuck together on landing to form a knobby rock in which the individual lumps are still just recognisable.
Lava Cave term. Ref KG
SPECIES Individuals of a given species have a large number of characteristics in common, and are thought to be able to breed together & have come from a common ancestor.
Biology - Flora & Fauna. Ref JJ
SPECIES 7th and lowest rank in Taxonomic system. Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Genus & Species together constitute the 'specific name', a unique name for all known organisims that are alive or have become extinct.
Biology - Flora & Fauna. Ref JJ
SPELEOGEN A cave feature formed erosionally or by weathering within a cave. Usually formed in the parent rock. eg Current markings, Rock pendant, Canyon, Spongework, Dome, Scallop.
Cave - Erosional & Solutional Features. Ref JJ
SPELEOLOGIST A person who studies caves and their contents, especially by actually entering caves.
Speleology term. Ref MM
SPELEOLOGY The study of caves and their contents. The exploration, description and study of caves and related phenomena.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
SPELEOTHEM Any of the secondary mineral cave deposits formed by chemical deposition, most commonly of calcite. See decoration. Note that use of 'formation' is detrimental.
Cave - Depositional Features. Ref JJ
SPLASH CUP (1) A shallow cavity in the top of a stalagmite. (2) Any depression caused by dripping water. Syn Conulite.
Cave - Depositional Features. Ref JJ
SPONGEWORK A complex of irregular, inter-connecting cavities intricately perforating the rock. The cavities may range from a few centimetres to more than a metre across.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
SPRING A natural flow of water from rock or soil onto the land surface or into a body of surface water. Syn Rising.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
SQUEEZE An opening in a cave only passable with effort because of its small dimensions. cf Flattener, Crawl.
Cave - Parts of. Ref JJ
SRT See Single rope technique.
Climbing and SRT. Ref MM
STALACTITE A speleothem hanging or growing downwards from a roof or wall, usually of cylindrical or conical form, originally with a central hollow tube, and formed by dripping water. see Straw.
Cave - Depositional Features. Ref JJ
STALAGMITE A speleothem projecting vertically upwards from a cave floor and formed by precipitation from drips, often found directly under a stalactite.
Cave - Depositional Features. Ref JJ
STANCE (is this a caving term)
Speleology term. Ref JJ
STATION A survey point in a chain of such points in a survey.
Survey & Mapping term. Ref JJ
STEEPHEAD A steep-sided valley in karst, generally short, ending abruptly upstream where a stream emerges or formerly did so.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
STEGAMITE A speleothem projecting upwards from a cave floor in the form of a calcite ridge. A medial crack appears along the top of the ridge where water is thought to be forced from the speleothem under capillary action. First described by R Webb.
Cave - Depositional Features. Ref RW
STOOPING In caving, describes a passage in which there is not quite enough head room walk, but more than a crawl way. cf Flattener, Crawlway, Walking
Cave - Parts of. Ref MM
STRANDLINE A coast line, present or ancient.
Geology. Ref KG
STRAW A long, thin-walled tubular stalactite that elongates as minerals are deposited at the lower tip by seepage water flows dripping through its hollow interior. see Stalactite.
Cave - Depositional Features. Ref JJ
STREAMSINK A point where a surface stream disappears underground. May empty into an obvious karst feature, or percolate down through streambed gravels.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref JJ
STRIKE The orientation of beds of rocks, given as the direction of a horizontal line in a bedding plane. . On level ground it is the direction of outcrop of inclined beds.
Geology. Ref JJ
STROMATOLITE A calcareous deposit, secreted by calcareous algae in the form of laminated domes and columns. Occurs in many cenotes.
Karst - Miscellaneous features of. Ref KG
STYGOBIONT Aquatic cavernicoles. Animals that live in karstic groundwater, or in alluvial groundwater. Includes stygobites, stygophiles & stygoxenes.
Speleology term. Ref AC
STYGOBITE An aquatic troglobite. An obligate aquatic species of hypogean waters having troglomorphic adaptions. Also includes the fauna found in deep groundwater substrata of alluvial aquifers.
Speleology term. Ref AC
STYGOFAUNA Ecologically descriptive term covering aquatic groundwater fauna. Syn Stygobiont.
Speleology term. Ref AC
STYGOPHILE A facultative stygobiont, usually lacking troglomorphies, and considered as the aquatic equivalent of a (terrestrial) troglophile.
Speleology term. Ref AC
STYGOXENE An habitual stygobiont which spends only part of its life cycle in cave waters and returns periodically to the epigean domain, eg for food.
Speleology term. Ref AC
STYLOLITE Suture in rock formed where pressure solution has taken place, often leaving a thin lamina of insoluble material along it. Also applied to columnlike structures in some limestones which are at right angles to the bedding plane.
Karst - Miscellaneous features of. Ref JJ
SUBJACENT KARST Karst developed in limestone or other soluble rock underlying other rock formations that are far less soluble. The ground surface may be perforated by collapse dolines etc or it may show no hint of the underlying karst. Example: Big Hole in NSW.
Karst - Kinds of. Ref JJ
SUBSIDENCE DOLINE Formed by the downward movement of limestone by solution and of loose surface material such as soils into an underground cavity.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref KG
SUBTERRANEAN Pertaining to underground environments. Often in reference to caves. And often in reference to caves in karst.
Speleology term. Ref AC
SUMP A point in a cave passage where the water meets the roof, then continues under water.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
SUPERSATURATED Referring to water that has more calcium carbonate or other karst rock mineral in solution than the maximum corresponding to normal conditions.
Speleology term. Ref JJ
SURVEY In caving, the measurement of directions and distances between survey points and of cave details from them, and the plotting of cave plans and sections from these measurements.
Survey & Mapping term. Ref JJ
SUSPENDED SEDIMENT Small particles of insoluble organic or inorganic matter suspended in water, Syn flocculant.
Hydrology terms. Ref AC
SUUNTO CLINOMETER A small, handheld pendulum clinometer commonly used in cave survey.
Survey & Mapping term. Ref JJ
SUUNTO COMPASS A small, handheld sighting compass commonly used in cave survey.
Survey & Mapping term. Ref JJ
SWALE A linear hollow or depression found between dunes or beachridges. Generally marshy or swampy, or may contain small lakes.
Geology. Ref KG
SWALLET They may empty into open or choked cave features (eg shafts, avens). Swallets may simply be a portion of streambed from which there is a gradual downward percolation of surface water.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref AC
SWALLET Usually in karst, a form of sinkhole (which may also be a cave entrance) but could refer to a streamsink. Swallets are major entry points for recharge waters in some karst areas.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref AC
SWIRLHOLE A more or less circular hole in rock in a streambed eroded by eddying water. Sometimes aided by rocks, sand or pebbles tumbling round and round.
Karst - Depression Features of. Ref JJ
SYNGENETIC KARST Karst developed in Aeolianite. Where the evolution of the karst has occurred at the same time as the lithification of the host sediment. A characteristic feature of Australian Quaternary dune calcarenites. First described by J N Jennings.
Karst - Kinds of. Ref JJ

Copyright © Australian Speleological Federation Inc. 2002

The Glossary of Speleological and Caving Terms is the copyright property of the
AUSTRALIAN SPELEOLOGICAL FEDERATION INC. (ASF) and any reproduction of it either in part or in full, should have the approval of the ASF, and such reproduction should be accompanied by a copyright notice similar to this one.

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