Israeli spelunkers and a Lebanese set world record, explore earth’s deepest cave

Four Hebrew U. researchers reach new lows in Abkhazia, and find new species of transparent fish

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Boaz Langford of the Israeli cave exploration delegation at a depth of 2,080 meters in the Krubera-Voronya cave in Abkhazia (Photo: courtesy of Hebrew University)
Boaz Langford of the Israeli cave exploration delegation at a depth of 2,080 meters in the Krubera-Voronya cave in Abkhazia (Photo: courtesy of Hebrew University)

Four researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem partook in a spelunking expedition to the deepest cave in the world, also known as the “Everest of the caves.”

The four explorers — Boaz Langford, Leonid Fagin, Vladimir Buslov and Yuval Elmaliach — joined the Ukrainian Speleological Association as part of an international delegation that aimed to break the world record for deepest place reached by spelunkers. On the team, which just returned from the trip, were members from nine countries, including Israel and Lebanon.

“The purpose of the venture was to break the world’s record for cave exploration — an achievement reached when a Ukrainian researcher reached a depth of 2,196 meters beneath the earth’s surface, five meters deeper than the previous record,” Professor Amos Frumkin of the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University, who heads the university’s cave research unit, said in a press statement on Sunday.

During its stay underground, the team had to deal with unexpected events. A flash underground flood kept the explorers isolated from contact for some 30 hours. At certain points they were forced to dive through extremely cold water (two degrees Celsius), and then continue their work underground.

The team used ropes and other methods to penetrate toward the center of the earth following the water systems, which always flow downward.

According to the press release, the Israelis worked at depths of 500 to 2,080 meters beneath the earth’s surface arriving at the deepest point ever reached in the world without technical diving techniques.

The Israeli participants broke a number of national records for cave exploration. The 2,080 meter figure is the deepest any Israeli spelunkers have ever achieved. And Fagin was in the cave for 24 consecutive days, the longest any Israeli has ever spent in one underground exploration.

Langford said he had tried to participate in such expeditions before, and was glad to finally have done so. “The preparations for expeditions such as this are extensive and involve a lot of mental preparation,” he said.

While some people enter the field of cave exploration for the personal challenge, there is also scientific importance to the team’s activities.

“One of the exciting findings of our work there was to discover a new species of transparent fish living in water of two degrees and at a depth of 2,000 meters,” Langford said.

Those who explore caves rely on each other quite often, and teamwork is key, Frumkin, the Hebrew University geologist, said. In a different cave nearby, a complex attempted evacuation of an explorer from another team took place, but he was killed during the expedition.

Krubera-Voronya is located in the disputed region of Abkhazia, near the Black Sea, and is the only cave known to go lower than 2,000 meters.


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