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BLACK HOLE: exploring a world without light

In January 2016, an international caving expedition traveled to the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The goal: to explore a gigantic sinkhole spotted in... aerial photos! Expedition leader Jean-Paul Sounier, who instigated the project, tells us about this exceptional adventure in the heart of the Papuan rainforest. Download the ebook for free to read about this incredible adventure!

April 12 2017

Caving

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Robbie Shone

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Excerpt

"Naming a caving expedition, "Black Hole," seems appropriate, since caving involves the exploration of natural underground cavities where nary a photon exists; an entire world without light.These two words conjure up images of the celestial phenomenon whose gravitational field is so strong that no particles of matter or waves of light can escape its grasp. Since deep caves appear to exert an equally strong force of attraction on cavers, why should a caving expedition not bear this name?

The explanation is actually rather simple... For this, let us travel a few years back into the past. In 1980 and 1985, on the island of New Britain – the second largest island in the archipelago that forms Papua New Guinea – the first two French caving expeditions venture into the Nakanai Mountains, a limestone mountain range with an area covering approximately 4000km². At the time, cavers relied on aerial photos to look for deep caverns to explore. In these images, the large surface sinkholes, characteristic of the rainforest-covered karst landscape, look like enormous black holes of varying sizes. Once identified, cavers ventured into the depths of such giant caves as Naré, Kururu, Poipun, and Bikbik Vuvu. In 1988, I made a helicopter reconnaissance flight over the zone between Galowe to the east, and the huge Wunung Gorge to the west. With Alan Rohl at the controls, we flew over the enormous doline located between the two gorges. It turned out to be huge "bowl" without a river at the bottom, so of little interest to our expedition. Alan then told me about previously flying over another huge sinkhole in the vicinity, but we unfortunately were unable to locate it this time around. We then flew up Wunung Gorge, and to my surprise, unlike Galowe Gorge, no rivers poured into this 1000 meter deep canyon. This begged the question, where was the water coming from that flowed into the mouth of the coastal Wunung River? We finally located Wunung's resurgence along one of the last meanders before the river enters the sea. The following years were spent exploring other objectives that this vast karst landscape contains, Muruk, Ora, Mageni, and Wowo, let- 6 - ting Wunung and its mysterious ghost river slowly fade from memory. During the summer of 2014, after an expedition to another karst area in New Britain, I started looking for a worthy objective to take me back the Nakanai Mountains. Looking at aerial photos kept safely in storage since the 1980s, I noticed, on a plateau along the left bank of Wunung Gorge, a black and white mark indicating a surface sinkhole. Could this be the very chasm that Alan Rohl spotted so long ago? Since Google Earth does not have high-definition satellite images of the area I switched to another website with satellite photos, Bing. I viewed with glee the high-definition photos of the area. Eagerly moving the cursor over the corresponding area in my aerial photos I discovered a black hole almost 100 meters wide! Even at max zoom I could not see the bottom. What would this mysterious unexplored black hole reveal? Venturing to a plateau that has never been explored and mapping its underground passageways, what an enticing proposition! One other important piece of information in the satellite images: the presence of a village on the right bank of Wunung Gorge, the ideal starting point towards the plateau where this mysterious sinkhole was located and that we of course named… Black Hole!"

 

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Download the ebook

Download the full version of the expedition report, written by Jean-Paul Sounier and immortalized with photos by Robbie Shone. 

1 Comments

David William Gill the 14/04/2017

Great report and photographs. Wish I could have been there with you.

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