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Group from Hoffman Institute attends national cave and karst convention

WKU Geography and Geology Department’s Hoffman Environmental Research Institute was a major presence at the National Speleological Society (NSS) Annual Convention last month in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

During their trip to the National Speleological Society meeting, WKU's Lee Anne Bledsoe, Sean Vanderhoff, Jason Polk and Leslie North took a field trip in Colorado learning about local karst geology.

The convention gathers cavers, karst scientists, educators, National Park Service employees and land managers, among others, to share knowledge and research about significant topics affecting caves and karst environments, such as groundwater issues and white-nose syndrome’s impact on bats around the country. The NSS is the largest non-profit organization in the world that deals with caves and karst landscapes, having over 10,000 members.

Several representatives from other organizations, including the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, Edwards Aquifer Authority, and several cave and karst conservancies were in attendance, which provided the opportunity for communication and to discuss future collaborations. Convention events included visiting Glenwood Caverns and Hot Springs, and several field trips to learn about the local geology and geomorphology of the karst landscape.

Seven Hoffman Institute faculty, staff and students participated in the conference, including graduate student Sean Vanderhoff, recent graduate Dan Nolfi, staff members Lee Anne Bledsoe, Benjamin Miller and Pat Kambesis, and faculty members Dr. Leslie North and Dr. Jason Polk. Collectively, they gave 12 presentations during the weeklong event in sessions whose topics included geology, cave and karst management, U.S. exploration, international exploration, cave conservation and more.

Kambesis also co-taught a cartography workshop on cave surveying and noted “short courses such as these give people with an interest in caves the chance to experience a glimpse of what our summer Karst Field Studies courses are like and allow them to learn more about the science of cave exploration and mapping.” Kambesis was also awarded an Honorable Mention for her map of a cave in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Vanderhoff, who is completing a thesis on contaminant transport in cave and karst systems in Kentucky, attended his first NSS Convention. “It was a great opportunity to further my research by learning more about what others are doing around the country regarding cave and karst environments,” he said.

Dr. Polk was named an “NSS Fellow to the Society” during the final banquet ceremony, which is an honor awarded to those who exemplify dedication to the goals of the Society through advances and contributions in science, exploration or conservation.

“This was a great experience for the Hoffman Institute and we are proud to have been able to contribute and share our recent efforts to better understand and educate folks about caves and karst landscapes” said Dr. Polk. “It is an honor to be selected as a Fellow, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the mission of the Society.”

Geography and Geology Department Head Dr. David Keeling noted that “the international reputation of the Hoffman Institute continues to grow as a result of the dedicated work of its faculty, staff, and students. The Hoffman team exemplifies excellence in research and community engagement, with students benefiting both in the classroom and in the field from the myriad projects directed by the Institute.”

Contact: Jason Polk, (270) 745-5015.

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