Spelunking: recreational cave exploration a.k.a., cavers (Americanism) (spelunc) any amateur/beginner cave exploration. Deep caves are reserved for the well trained/highly skilled.
Urban Spelunking: exploring new/old/ancient structures, abandoned ruins or hidden manmade environments
Spelunking is the recreational sport of exploring caves, but it is no longer called spelunking, unless used to describe the brand new or inexperienced. Caving is the most acceptable term. However the English word “spelunk” (meaning cave) was used back in the 16th century and may have become popular because of its silly phonetics. The term was revived in the 1940s to describe any non-speleological act of scrambling around in a cave for fun.
There are two words that refer to exploring caves. The older is speleology, with its derived speleological and speleologist, (from Latin spelaeum, which variously meant a cave, cavern, den, or grotto) (it derives from Greek spelaion, a cave). Spelunking is from spelunca, which the Romans took over from the Greek spelynx. Spelunk for a cave, borrowed from the Latin via Old French, briefly existed in English.
It’s thought the originator knew of the Dutch spelonk or the equivalent Middle High German Spelunke. Within most caving communities, spelunker now means an unknowledgeable and untrained amateur explorer and the more experienced prefer the term cavers. Scientists and cavers who explore with serious purpose continue to call themselves speleologists.
Speleologists: scientists who study caves and their unique ecosystems. The word for the scientific study of caves is speleology.
These scientists research the rare and yet to be discovered creatures that make their homes in the furthest reaches of caves. The studies have grown with the popularity and research in extremophiles.
Extremophiles: microbes thriving in conditions that would be lethal to humans or other living things.
This study is believed to help humans understand the earliest life forms on earth and prepare us for exploration of harsh environments while also helping in the development of space exploration equipment.
Cave archeology incorporates the study of sacred ritual and ceremonial sites for many world cultures. These sites are usually very well protected from the elements, they often contain well-preserved examples of ceremonial vessels, clothing and burial objects. A popular find was the prehistoric cave paintings in places at Lascaux, France.
Cavers work at preservation and conservation. The fragile ecosystems and delicate calcite structures can easily be destroyed by careless “spelunkers” or deliberate vandals. Cave conservationists block off entrances to particularly vulnerable passages or help educate beginning cavers about proper caving. Archeologists have evidence for ancient people using caves as sacred locations for religious and dwelling protection from harsh weather/humans.
Most caves are found in a karst landscape, characterized by sinkholes, substantial underground aquifers and active subterranean drainage. Around 20 percent of the United States falls into this characterization.