CUCC Expedition Handbook - Data Management

Why cavers need effective data management

Cave exploration is more data-intensive than any other sport. The only way to "win" at this sport is to bring back large quantities of interesting survey, and possibly photos or scientific data. Aside from the data collection requirements of the game itself, setting up a game (an expedition) of cave exploration often involves collection of personal information ranging from dates available to medical information to the desire to purchase an expedition t-shirt.

If an expedition will only happen once, low-tech methods are usually adequate to record information. Any events that need to be recorded can go in a logbook. Survey notes must be turned into finished cave sketches, without undue concern for the future expansion of those sketches.

However, many caving expeditions are recurring, and managing their data is a more challenging task. For example, let us discuss annual expeditions. Every year, for each cave explored, a list of unfinished leads (which will be called "Question Marks" or "QMs" here) must be maintained to record what has and has not been investigated. Each QM must have a unique id, and information stored about it must be easily accessible to future explorers of the same area. Similarly, on the surface, a "prospecting map" showing which entrances have been investigated needs to be produced and updated at least after every expedition, if not more frequently.

These are only the minimum requirements for systematic cave exploration on an annual expedition. There is no limit to the set of data that would be "nice" to have collected and organized centrally. An expedition might collect descriptions of every cave and every passage within every cave. Digital photos of cave entrances could be useful for re-finding those entrances. Scans of notes and sketches provide good backup references in case a question arises about a finished survey product, and recording who did which survey work when can greatly assist the workflow, for example enabling the production of a list of unfinished work for each expedition member. The expedition might keep an inventory of their equipment or a catalog of their library. Entering the realm of the frivolous, an expedition might store mugshots and biographies of its members, or even useful recipes for locally available food. The more of this information the expedition wishes to keep, the more valuable an effective and user-friendly system of data management.

From " Troggle: a novel system for cave exploration information management", by Aaron Curtis, CUCC.