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WKU karst scientist leads mapping project at Deer Cave System in Borneo

Pat Kambesis, assistant director of WKU’s Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, has just returned from southeast Asia, where she led a team of 11 volunteers from the United States and Canada to map the Deer Cave System at Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Borneo.

Main entrance of Deer Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park. (Photo by John Pollack)

The project, conducted over a 10-day period, was under the direction of park manager Brian Clark. WKU geoscience graduate student Josh Brewer of Bowling Green also participated in the project.

One of the main objectives of the project was to document the size and length of Deer Cave accurately, as it contains one of the largest cave passages in the world. A combination of total-station type survey methods and standard cave survey techniques were used to measure width, height, and volume of cave passages and to georeference in-cave features accurately.

“Pat’s international expertise in karst mapping has provided significant learning opportunities for students, resource managers and other academics,” noted Geography and Geology Department Head David Keeling. “The Hoffman Institute’s international reach is made possible by engaging faculty and students in a variety of research experiences that aim to improve management decision making and ultimately overall quality of life.”

Deer Cave had originally been documented by E.G. Wilson’s 1961 survey for the Malaysian Geological Survey. In the late 1970s, a Royal Geographic Society (UK) sponsored expedition conducted the first survey and map of the cave documenting 1.75 kilometers (1.2 miles) of passage.

The 2009 survey effort increased the known passage length to 4.1 kilometers (2.5 miles) and connected Langs Cave, another show cave within the park, to the Deer Cave System. Maximum passage width of Deer Cave System documented in this effort was 168.7 meters (553 feet) and ceiling heights averaged well over 120 meters (394 feet). The main entrance of Deer Cave was measured at 146 meters (478 feet) and the Garden of Eden Entrance was measured to be 140 meters (450 feet) in width.

The survey revealed the existence of an undescended 305 meter-deep shaft (Deer Cave Aven), which places it among the three deepest in southeast Asia. The highest elevation cave passage (and probably the oldest)  in the system was the Antler Passage measured at 226 meters (741 feet) above the  main cave trail.

Other cave statistics such as average cave width, height and volume will be calculated from the data collected during the effort. In addition, a new detailed map will be produced, as well as a 3-D model of the cave system. Park management will be able to use these maps for cave resource and infrastructure management, and for interpretation and educational displays in a new visitors center that is under construction.

Contact: Pat Kambesis, (270) 745-3961.

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