Cave Surveying - Hydrolevelling


Hydrolevelling is an alternative to measuring depth with clinometer and tape that has a long history of use in Russia. The technique is regularly used in building construction for finding two points with the same height, as in levelling a floor. In the simplest case, a tube with both ends open is used, attached to a strip of wood, and the tube is filled with water and the depth at each end marked. In Russia, measuring the depth of caves by hydrolevelling began in the 1970s, and was considered to be the most accurate means of measuring depth despite the difficulties in using the cumbersome equipment of the time. Interest in the method has been revived following the discovery of Voronja on the Arabica Massif in the Caucasus—currently the world's deepest cave.

The hydrolevel device used in recent Voronja expeditions comprises a 50-metre (160 ft) transparent tube filled with water, which is coiled or placed on a reel. A rubber glove which acts as a reservoir is placed on one end of the tube, and a metal box with a transparent window is placed on the other. A diver's digital wristwatch with a depth gauge function is submerged in the box. If the rubber glove is placed on one station and the box with the depth gauge is placed on a lower one, then the hydrostatic pressure between the two points depends only on the difference in heights and the density of the water, i.e. the route of the tube does not affect the pressure in the box. Reading the depth gauge gives the apparent depth change between the higher and lower station. Depth changes are 'apparent' because depth gauges are calibrated for sea water, and the hydrolevel is filled with fresh water. Therefore a coefficient must be determined to convert apparent depth changes to true depth changes. Adding the readings for consecutive pairs of stations gives the total depth of the cave.

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