Introduction Longest caves of south east Asia Longest caves of Peninsular Malaysia Chambers Stalagmite size 3D laser scanning Drones for mapping
People everywhere are always fascinated by records, such as biggest, longest, deepest etc. But there is no set standard for defining "large" or "big". These terms could refer to the floor/surface area, or to the volume. Measuring volume has been inaccurate in the past as it was hard to measure the cave height in the days before distos (laser distometers).
The caves of Peninsular Malaysia hold no records in terms of length or depth, unlike those in east Malaysia. The longest cave in Peninsula Malaysia is a mere 4.8 km. In contrast, the caves in Mulu National Park in Sarawak are large and long, and include record holders like Clearwater Cave, the longest in Southeast Asia, and 8th longest in the world at 222 km (2017). Clearwater could also be the world's biggest cave in terms of volume. Sarawak Chamber in Gua Nasib Bagus has long been considered the world’s largest underground chamber (determined by surface area and also volume), largest underground chambers. This was resurveyed on the Mulu Caves 2011 expedition and these are the results. In Sept 2014 it was announced that China's Miao Chamber in the Gebihe cave system is larger in volume than Sarawak Chamber, though still smaller in area. See below, and also see Nat Geog report. Deer Cave was considered to be the world's 'biggest/longest' passage until April 2009 when it was announced that a larger passage had been explored by British cavers in Vietnam, in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh Province. Son Doong Cave is said to be 150 m at the highest point, and 90 m wide, (averaging maybe 80m x 80m) and maybe 4.5 km long (some reports say 2 km). This led to the resurvey of Deer Cave at the end of 2009 by an 11 person team from Western Kentucky University under the direction of the Mulu Park manager. Using the latest equipment they were able to accurately measure width, height, and volume of the cave passages. The length of Deer Cave was substantially increased as it was connected to Langs Cave, giving a system length of 4.1 km. So the vital statistics are now: length 4.1 km , maximum width 168.7 m, ceiling heights averaging over 120 m, highest part of roof is Antler Passage 226 m high. Deer Cave main entrance 146 m wide, Garden of Eden entrance 140 m wide. Another exciting measurement revealed that the Deer Cave Aven skylight is 305 m, although undescended. This puts it among the 3 deepest in Southeast Asia/Oceania (after those in New Guinea and PNG). Another BCRA expedition in Apr 2010 found that Son Doong was larger than first thought. Cavers explored further and discovered a new 2 km long chamber. This measures 250 m high and 200 m wide compared to the largest section found 2009 which was only 150 m high and 200 m wide. The cave has several hectares of forests growing inside it with trees rising up to 40 m. It was debatable which is bigger - Deer Cave or Hang Son Doong. As there is no accepted standard for measurement, this question may never be exactly answered. Although the Son Doong results have not yet been published, the Nat. Geog. film ended saying Son Doong Cave is the "world's biggest, with a passage continuously higher, wider and substantially longer than any other in the world". See more on the Nat Geog film. In White Rock Cave, Api Chamber is the world's 9th largest underground void (Descent 189, 2006). More than 355 km of cave passage has been mapped in Mulu (2013). However these are all mere babies compared to the world’s longest, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, USA, which is 643 km (400 miles) (Feb 2013).
The longest cave in the Indian subcontinent is Krem Liat Prah/Um Im/Labbit in Meghalaya, India, 30.957 km (March 2008).
The world’s deepest cave is Krubera Cave (aka Voronja Cave) in the Western Caucasus (Georgia) and is 2197m deep (Aug 2012). The deepest in Southeast Asia is Cong Nuoc in Vietnam at 600 m. Malaysia’s deepest cave is Gua Kulit Siput in Gunung Buda at 470m, closely followed by Bridge/Cloud/Cobra System in Mulu (Sarawak) at 460m.
Gunung Api in Mulu, at 1682m, is the highest limestone mountain between north Thailand and New Guinea.
There are a few tiankengs in Sarawak. A tiankeng is defined as a collapse doline at least 100 m long, wide and deep, and with perimeter walls that are close to vertical (Zhu and Waltham 2006). Waltham lists Sendirian and RMAF Hole in Mulu as tiankengs. He defines the Garden of Eden as a mega-doline or tiankeng, and suggests that Sarawak Chamber may one day collapse to form such a feature.
*a Gua Air Jernih system = Clearwater, Whiterock and Blackrock *b Terikan System = Terikan East/Terikan West, Terikan Rising & Blue Moonlight Bay *c Tham Nam Non published length is 22.1 km, explored and mapped 25 km. In 2010 it was connected to Tham Song Dang, 4500m, giving a system of 29.5 km. Note that there are other caves in the Khammouane area of Laos which are known to be between 10-20 km in length, have not been published, so they should not really be included. For more information see Brouquisse, International Caver (1999) No 25. *d aka Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, said to be the world’s longest navigable underground river, 4.5 km (tourist reports say 8.2 km) *e is actually a hydrological system of separate caves so not included in ranking. *f Hang Vom is part of the 36 km long Hang Vom System, where the caves are connected hydrologically but not physically. Vietnam media 2010 reports that Thien Duong (Paradise Cave) is the longest cave in Vietnam at 31 km, but it is actually part of Hang Vom. *g Gua Salukkan Kallang 12,263 m , Gua Tanette 9,472 m , Spelunca 23, 1997 suggests they are connected, 24.25 km. In fact they are not connected but are part of one system, with 3 other caves : Lubang Kabut, Lubang Batu Neraka and Gua Wattanang, and Towakkalak Meer which is the resurgence of the system. Maros, Sulawesi. *h Hang Ke Rye is part of Phong Nga unconnected system (44.5 or 66 km). *i Connected to Luweng Munung Plente in 1992, survey in Tysom (1993) shows the length at about 15.5 km so the exact length is not clear. *j This length is debatable. A Canadian/US team re-surveyed the cave 2008, added some fossil passage and published a very detailed map showing 9.7 km of passage (Pollack et al. 2009). Then Mouret et al. (2010) published a report with a new survey, where Xe Bang Fai is 15,180 m long. This could be an over-exaggeration as there is little difference between the 2 surveys. A more realistic length is 13,700 m, from 9,700 m + 4000 m mapped in 2007 and 2008. *k Nam Dôn-Houay Saď system is composed of 3 caves (separated by two short legs (40 and 50 m) outside, because sinkholes have truncated the main passage). Tham Houay Saď - Khoun Dôn (main cave) 31.02 km, Tham Kouan Pheung 0.59 km, Tham Kouan Kaohong 2.73 km.
Source: * Ghommidh 2010 email & Explo-Laos 2014 * IC - International Caver * Mouret 2004 - in Gunn Encyclopedia of Caves & Karst Science * Mouret, C; Vaquié, J.-F; Collignon, B; Rolin, J. & Steiner, H. (2010) La rivičre souterraine géante de Tham Xe Bang Fai et le réseau karstique associé, Aire nationale protégée de Hin Namno, Khammouane, Laos central. Spelunca, 119, p. 35-45 ;Lyon. * Piccini, L. et al (2007): Nuove esplorazioni nel carso di St.Paul. / Recent speleological explorations in the St.Paul karst. Kur 9, Supplement, Technical Notes, (15pp). * Pollack, J; Kambesis, P; Osburn, B; Bunnell, D; Addison, A; Stanway, K; Sawatzky, D. & Whitfield, P. (2009) Tham Khoun Xe – The Great Cave on the Xe Bang Fai River. NSS News, July 2009, p. 4-11. * Tysom, W. (1993) Tales of Java Caving 1992. Western Caver, vol. 33, p. 80-905.
Longest caves of Peninsular Malaysia
Relatively few caves in Malaysia have been surveyed, so cave lengths are often not known.
Gua Kelam 2
Gua Baba / Lo Po Sang
Foh Thye Wang Ulu
Gua Puncak Lanno
Gua Anak Tempurung
Kong Fook Ngam
Gua Puing / The Ruins
Gua Kera Mati
# these lengths are only approximate
(List created in 2005)
Here is a list of some of the large chambers found in Malaysian caves. Note that the measurements given may not be exact as they vary from source to source, and some surveys were done before accurate 'distos' were available, and data on cave surface area and volume is scarce. Also the parameters depend on the way the survey was done. Volume is estimated using an average size of the passage. More details about cave morphometry can be found in Gunn, Encyclopedia of Caves & Karst Science. For the world's biggest chambers see caverbob.
Sarawak Chamber was remeasured in 2011 using advanced laser measuring equipment, so the results should be accurate. In 2013 the Miao Room in China was measured and at 10.78 million cubic meters is larger than Sarawak Chamber in terms of volume. However Sarawak Chamber retains the largest in area at 154,500 sq.m. compared with Miao's 140,900 sq.m.
*a The original figures were later upgraded to the ones above, Descent 241, Dec 2014.
The largest stalagmite in the world is reported to be in Cueva Martin Infierno, Cuba and is about 70 m high and 20 m in diameter (Dreybrodt & Romanov), although Dave Bunnell gives a more precise figure of 67.2 m. Son Doong Cave in Vietnam is said to have stalagmites more than 70 m high. The largest one that I know of in Malaysia is Gergasi (the giant) in Gua Tempurung in Perak, and is an estimated 32m in height, with a circumference at the base of about 49m (although other estimates say 50 m and 65 m high).
3D laser scanning
The 3D mapping of caves with laser scanners has been tried in England and other European countries over the past decade, but has never really caught on. The best use for it seems to be to determine the size (volume) of large chambers. And for a 3D tour through caves for armchair cavers!
One of the first Malaysian caves scanned was Gua Wang Burma in Perlis.
In Oct 2009 I was invited to join the same group from UTM who were trying out a scanner in caves in Lenggong in Perak. Their idea is to scan caves "to generate a hyperaccurate 3D maps with 2mm resolution within a 25m radius. It can effectively scan every aspect of the cave including its speleobiology". I have my doubts about the latter claim, as most cave fauna would not be visible. It was then suggested it could help bat researchers to identify species. However I think this is not very practical, and certainly not down to species level, and bats would still have to be caught and identified, or else bat detectors used. Although the claim is it can detect anything above 6mm in its 120m range, and 2mm in a 25mm range, this certainly won't show bat species, and definitely not the smaller cave creatures.
One problem is transportation, as the scanner in its box weighs about 24 kg and out of the box about 14 kg. It comes in 4 sections. It's easy enough to scan in a chamber with a single set-up for the laser scanner, but would become very tedious in a cave passage needing multiple set-ups. It also uses a lot of power so large batteries have to be carried.
The scanner has a rotating mirror that directs the laser beam into the area of measurement. Distances are determined by the phase shift of reflected laser beam opposite the transmisison beam. With the help of the angle of the rotating mirror and the angle of the laser scanner, the module calculates the coordinate and stores the data. Procedure is repeated several hundred thousand times per second.
In Nov 2014 the UTM group started scanning caves at Kota Gelanggi in Pahang. The first cave we did was Gua Terang Bulan, using a new (& lighter) Faro scanner.
In July 2012, a team of 7 international specialists did a 3D scan in part of Simud Hitam at Gomantong, using the latest Faro scanner that weighs just 5k kg and requires less power than the earlier versions. See Gomantong 3D laser scanning. The Youtube video Gomantong Caves 3D Model -
Now scanners are getting smaller and lighter in size. There is even a handheld scanner, ZEB1, which has been tried out in caves in England. At Ł14,000 it is much cheaper than previous scanners!
Low cost flying drones are now being used by cavers to see inaccessible places, check out cliffs and fly over depressions. One British caver intends to use a Hexacopter in Deer Cave in 2013 (see Descent 230, 2013). In the same issue of Descent is an article on the use of a mapping drone in Gomantong and Niah. See more on the Gomantong project.