China Caves 3D Project - Press Release
Using the latest technology Chinese and British cavers have discovered the world’s largest underground chamber – by the appliance of science!
A project to accurately map some of the world’s largest cave chambers and passageways has been underway for a number of years. Headed by Tim Allen , Andy Eavis and Roo Walters, the project aims to use the latest laser scanning technology to model the world’s great caves. Not only can this settle any arguments over which caves are biggest, but more importantly the data is being used to understand the various processes which create large caves and allow scientists to study such factors as stability in closer detail than ever before. Perhaps of wider appeal is the fantastic imagery that is possible using laser scan data including flying around 150ft high stalagmites like ‘Harry Potter’.
In September last year the UK based caving team, in partnership with the Institute of Karst Geology from Guilin, China
, undertook an exercise to create laser scan images of China’s largest cave chambers.
Back in 2011 the team laser scanned Sarawak Chamber, in Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia, which had been considered the largest chamber in the world since its discovery in 1980.
After careful analysis of the field data, Richard Walters, the expedition IT co-ordinator, announced that the Miaos Room has overtaken Sarawak Chamber as the largest known chamber in the world. The announcement was made at the Hidden Earth Caving Conference which took place this weekend at Leek in Staffordshire.
Expedition deputy leader, Tim Allen said, “In caving terms, this is similar to discovering that Everest is no longer the highest mountain in the world, but instead has been overtaken by K2.”
The Miaos Room is part of the Gebihe River System, at the Ziyun Getu He Chuandong National Park, Guizhou province. It was first reported by a Chinese/French caving team in 1989 and named after the minority tribe which inhabit the area. Up until now the Miaos Room had always been considered the second largest chamber in the world. Other large chambers visited during the expedition were Titan Chamber near Anlong and Hong Meigui Chamber near Leye.
All these chambers are simply massive. To get from one side to another can take over an hour of tough caving, crossing rugged terrain with boulders the size of houses. The chambers are stunningly beautiful and adorned with huge formations and 100’s of gour pools which mimic the paddy fields seen above ground. In the Miaos Room there is a colossal stalagmite 47m (150ft) high.
The scanning team spent up to 6 days in each chamber moving the scanner again and again between locations, balancing it in precarious positions, even losing it for over an hour at one heart stopping point as the boulder field being scanned was so immense and complicated – and all to ensure full data coverage.
This was a high cost expedition with the replacement value of the scanner close to six figures – this was not an item to be dropped! The expedition was part funded by an Expeditionary Advisory Council Grant from National Geographic who also sent a top photographer, Carsten Peter, to record the trip.
In the field the expedition would not have been possible without the long term partnership between the China Caves Project and the Institute of Karst Geology. The UK team is indebted to Zhang Yuanhai, Huang Baojian and Chen Weihai from the Guilin Institute, Guangxi province and Prof. Li Po from the Guizhou Academy of Sciences.
Post expedition processing work has been key to verifying the results. Millions and millions of individual data locations are produced from the walls of the chamber. These form a ‘point cloud’ which constructs the shape of the chamber and gives the 3D image. High tech processing software is incredibly sophisticated and expensive and the team was was assisted by UK based company 3D Laser Mapping who rendered all the data for us.
The final figures for volume and area were produced and verified with the help of LPDU Lancaster University.
All is not lost for the great Sarawak Chamber as it is still the largest chamber by surface area. However, volume is the best measure of overall size (you never measure the amount of beer you have by measuring the base of the glass), and the Miaos Room is 10% larger in this respect. In effect the roof domes of the Miaos Room are a lot higher than Sarawak Chamber and these hold considerable volume – this is what makes the difference.
Andy Eavis, Tim Allen, Jane Allen, Richard Walters, Mark Richardson, Dr Daniella Pani, Prof. Pete Smart, Prof. Zhang Yuanhai, Erin Lynch, Shi Wenqian.
These results represent our best calculations at this stage, they will be much more accurate than any survey results that have been produced so far.
Volume of chambers. Figures in million cubic metres
Miaos Room 10.78
Sarawak Chamber 9.64
Hong Meigui Chamber 5.25
Titan Chamber 2.53
Footprint area of chambers. Figures in thousand square metres
Sarawak Chamber 154.5
Miaos Room 140.9
Hong Meigui Chamber 54.9
Titan Chamber 54.8