How to Become a Speleologist

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Speleology? That’s not a word you hear everyday. Speleology is the study of caves, while the person who studies and explores caves is known as Speleologist. This field covers the knowledge and study of a cave’s biology, geology, make-up, structure, history, eco-system, and more.

In order to become a professional speleologist, it is important to have a great interest in nature and environmental safety.

This is the only way to specialize in Speleology and make the most of it.

Majoring in geology and geosciences is recommended, as they both deal with the structure and study of the earth. You will study other topics as well like oceans, atmospheres, rivers, and lakes, because on the whole, they help greatly in studying the caves from a scientific view. With a proper background, you can understand how earth science plays a significant role in the formation of caves.

There are many universities that require only a relevant bachelor’s degree; often, they will just want you to have a good knowledge of geology for you to get started.

Below is a short step-by-step guide that will help you understand how to become a speleologist.

A speleologist looks at some rock formations up close.

1 – Education

As mentioned earlier, majoring in geology and geosciences is recommended.

In the USA, several prestigious universities offer earth science programs, such as Stanford University, The University of Texas, and Columbia University. You can opt for Geology and Geosciences as your major there.

As a Geology major, you learn about the earth and the forces acting upon it. The universities make you visit geologically important local, regional, and national sites. You also need prepare to spend 3-4 hours a week in the lab, where you will learn how to identify rocks, minerals, and fossils.

The syllabus outline is usually based on a few important things.

  • Introduction – Development of Speleology.
  • Methods of Cave Research.
  • Methods of Studying Caves.
  • Classifications of Caves.

Apart from this, some other expected caving related subjects are geochemistry, geophysics, mineralogy, and paleontology.

It is pertinent to choose the right university and program if you are serious about Speleology and want to become a professional speleologist. Consider several important factors that may differ across universities. For example, how much access will you have in the labs? Studying in the right labs is more important and will give you a real-life experience.

In addition, can you choose a particular subject to make a career in the future, like hydrogeology or environmental geology?

If you are still in primary school, focus on mathematics, physical sciences, geography, and life sciences. In college, a geology or geosciences major will help you in acquiring a caving skill set, and also assist in getting a particular job in the Speleology field.

The major will take 3-4 years to finish, and after the major, you need the right certification to get started and get the job you desire. If you want to dominate the competition, you can specialize further with honors or a Master’s degree.

Caver looks up from a very dirty/muddy cave floor.
Nothing like a hot shower after a day of getting down in the dirt…

2 – Caving Skills

To become a speleologist, it goes without saying – you need some caving skills. One should try to acquire caving skills from the start.

Many speleologists don’t have a Master’s degree, since entry-level jobs don’t require it. It can cost a lot to get a Master’s degree from a well-known university, so some opt not to. But there are benefits in the long run.

Speleologists with Master’s degrees tend to make more money, as they will have more credibility and often more caving skills and knowledge that help them in leading their group.

For example, they know how to measure the chemical and physical indicators of cave elements, check different types of karst, and even have experience with statistical and computer modeling. In addition to being specialized in education-related skills, they often have superior physical skills that are required for caving.

Also, knowing how to deal with static and flowing water expertly is significant.

Any stream way in the cave presents many hazards. It can either compel you to opt for a low wet crawl or make you swim in high water conditions. A professional speleologist with the right education and physical caving skill knows this very well.

Other than that, mud, loose rocks, and the complex cave formation can really challenge on all physical, emotional, and psychological levels.

If you don’t have the right set of skills, you can put your life in danger.

With mud, the open routes may become obstructed, rendering you unable to return to the surface or escape the cave. It can push you to find a safe alternate route. Similarly, loose rocks can trap you and put you in a risky situation. They often fall due to small earthquakes.

The complex cave system or the formation is another thing that can confuse a novice caver. Some caves are a three-dimensional maze and caving parties can get lost quite easily. A professional speleologist never underestimates the complex formation of caves and always studies them well in advance.

A 3-d rectangular map of a cave, which a speleologist would find handy when preparing to explore or research safely inside.

3 – Career

Speleology is essentially the study of geosciences.

If you are majoring in geosciences or geology, you can go into a number of possible careers. You develop a broad set of transferable skills that apply in numerous fields.

  • Land Managers… Land managers are engineers, but if you are in caving,  you can design show caves or reinforce existing caves for tourist attraction.
  • Geoscientist… The Geoscientists measure and study the earth’s structure and composition with the help of math, computers, and aerial photography. They also work on the geology, biology, and chemistry of the oceans. If you are particularly on a project that studies the water that circulates below the earth’s surface; you can spend time in the caves too.
  • Lecturer… You can become a lecturer in colleges and schools; it is the best job for those who want to stay connected with the caving systems and enjoy thrilling activities.
  • Mining… As a geoscientist or geological engineer, you find new resources to extract like coal, oil, metals, and minerals. Giant oil companies often give high-paying jobs to geologists.


The job demand for speleologists is increasing constantly. There is no shortage of work in this field.

If you want to work for scientific institutes as a professional speleologist, you have to work for the government. The average salary of a professional speleologist is around $90,000, whereas the lowest group reported earning a salary of $48,000.

But when you’re passionate about something, you must pursue it. So do consider learning more about what to expect and what kind of university to apply to in advance. It can be difficult, but if caving is something you truly love, it might be the most rewarding career choice for you.

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