This experiment is part of the Groundwater and Caves Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Surveying the Underwater Caves of Virginia

Raised of $3,000 Goal
Funded on 12/07/16
Successfully Funded
  • $3,101
  • 103%
  • Funded
    on 12/07/16

About This Project

Virginia is home to several underwater caves. Two of the deepest underwater caves in Virginia have not been explored completely. This project will complete the exploration and produce maps of these caves.

The maps will be shared with the Virginia Speleological Survey to increase the knowledge of cave systems in Virginia. The maps will also be shared with landowners to show them what lies underneath their property. This information can be used to protect these caves.

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What is the context of this research?

Humanity has a fundamental need to explore our environment. Caves are one of the last places on Earth that are left to be fully explored and mapped.

Big Spring and Burnt House Spring are two of the deepest underwater caves in Virginia. Cavers and divers have been mapping these caves since 2010. Both caves have reached a point that only advanced cave divers can continue the exploration.

These caves are part of two large watersheds that drain into cave systems with multiple entrances and miles of passage.

What is the significance of this project?

These deep underwater caves are unusual. Mapping them will increase our understanding of the geology and hydrology of the regions we are exploring.

What are the goals of the project?

The goal of this project is to explore and produce maps of two of the deepest underwater caves in Virginia. The maps will be shared with the Virginia Speleological Survey and with the backers of this project.

First, surveys will be performed in the caves. This will require multiple trips where a team of divers and support cavers will take depth and distance measurements and compass bearings at many points throughout the cave.

Second, a line plot will be produced that is basically a stick map only showing the location of the passages without any detail.

Next, sketching the passages and features will add detail to the map, showing the size and shape of the passage. The sketches will be produced from measurements and drawing done underwater throughout the dives.


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This exploration is being performed by volunteers. That being said, the nature of these caves requires extensive equipment and supplies to be completed safely. A single dive to 200 ft requires 6 scuba tanks filled with various gasses.

The deepest parts of the dive use a mixture of oxygen nitrogen and helium. This mixture reduces the narcotic effect of breathing compressed gas at depth and reduces the chances of oxygen toxicity.

Tanks of air and nitrox (air with extra oxygen added) are used to travel through the shallower parts of the cave and for decompression. A pure oxygen tank is also used for decompression.

The scuba gear I use takes a beating from sump diving. It has to be maintained, repaired and replaced when too damaged. Some of the money will go to that.

If I raise any money over the goal I plan to put it towards a rebreather. A rebreather will allow me to perform longer dives using less gas once I have the training.

Endorsed by

Underwater caves and related springs in Virginia remain largely unknown because very few individuals have the skills and interest in pursuing what is very difficult and expensive exploration. Chris has been gradually advancing in the field and has demonstrated the ability to safely explore underwater caves and produce documentation with surveys, maps, and video.
This is a vital project to continue the exploration and mapping of these significant cave systems and will help to preserve and protect the caves and karst resources of Virginia. Chris is one of the very few cave divers who are qualified to map these underwater caves. With additional financial support, we can gain the knowledge for effective cave and karst management, speleology, and conservation.

Meet the Team

Christopher Garguilo
Christopher Garguilo


VPI Cave Club, NSS - CDS
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Team Bio

Diving these caves requires extensive support from other caver and cave divers. Cavers from the VPI Cave Club and other local cavers often give me surface support. Several divers have helped haul tanks through the cave and provided surface support past the first sump of Big Spring.

Christopher Garguilo

I started caving with the VPI Cave Club almost 20 years ago. In 2010 while surveying Big Spring we discovered a beautiful sump pool at the back of the cave. At that moment I knew I wanted to extend my exploration into underwater caves.

After extensive training both in the open water and caves, I got my cave diving certification in 2012. Since then I have been on over 100 cave dives; many of them exploration dives in Virginia.

I hold certifications in Cave Diving through the National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section and Trimix Diving though Technical Diving International

Additional Information

After every dive I will post a trip report along with survey data. I will also post a video of the dive.

Project Backers

  • 26Backers
  • 103%Funded
  • $3,101Total Donations
  • $119.27Average Donation
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