Caves are subterranean voids created by the dissolution and the erosion of the host rock, often composed of carbonates (limestones and dolostones), but also evaporites (gypsum and halite) and quartz-arenites. They are carved by phreatic or rising waters involved in chemical-physical processes. Their dimensions can range from a few centimetres to several tens of metres in diameter. Over 15,000 km of caves have been explored worldwide, but they are probably less than 10% of those existing underground. Exploring these subterranean worlds is among the most stimulating geographical endeavours today, also at just a few km from home.

Caves host a variety of signs of past climate and environment, and remains of past inhabitants of the Earth (including Man). The scientific research in these, sometimes, extreme environments is multidisciplinar, much more than any other kind of scientific activity. From a geological point of view this includes geomorphology, sedimentology, mineralogy, palaeontology, geochemistry, hydrogeology, structural geology, and other branches of science (chemistry, physics, biology, archaeology, etc.). These researches are generally carried out in teams, and can lead to exceptional scientific discoveries, like minerals and organisms new for science, unique palaeoclimate records, hominid fossils, etc.

In Bologna these researches have been carried out at university level since over half a century, and our institute is recognised as one of the most important specialised karst centres in the world, also hosting one of the biggest thematic (speleological) libraries on Earth.

In the last years scientific activities have been focused on seven main lines of research: speleogenesis in quartz-arenitic environments, formation and evolution of caves in evaporite rocks, hypogenic caves (especially the sulfuric acid ones), caves formed by mixing of salt and fresh water in coastal areas, reconstructions of palaeoclimate variation through the analysis of speleothems, and the formation of secondary minerals in caves, and geomicrobiology in underground environments.


There is also ongoing research on the presence of caves, especially volcanic ones, on other celestial bodies such as the Moon or Mars.


Selected Publications (2015-2020)

Sanna Laura, De Waele Jo, Calaforra José Maria, Forti Paolo (2015) - Long-term erosion rate measurements in gypsum caves of Sorbas (SE Spain) by the Micro-Erosion Meter method. Geomorphology 228, pp. 213-225 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.09.009). (IF2015 2.813, Scopus 5, Google Scholar 7)

D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, De Waele Jo, Ceballo Melendres Osmany, Tisato Nicola, Sauro Francesco, Grau Gonzalez Esteban Ruben, Bernasconi Stefano M., Torriani Stefano, Bontognali Tomaso Renzo Rezio (2015) - Genesis of folia in a non-thermal epigenic cave (Matanzas, Cuba). Geomorphology 228, pp. 526-535 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.09.006). (IF2015 2.813, Scopus 6, Google Scholar 14)

Gázquez Fernando, Calaforra José-María, Forti Paolo, De Waele Jo, Sanna Laura (2015) - The role of condensation in the evolution of dissolutional forms in gypsum caves: Study case in the karst of Sorbas (SE Spain). Geomorphology 229, pp. 100-111 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.07.006). (IF2015 2.813, Scopus 14, Google Scholar 18)

Coombes Martin A., La Marca Emanuela C., Naylor Larissa A., Piccini Leonardo, De Waele Jo, Sauro Francesco (2015) - The influence of light attenuation on the biogeomorphology of a marine karst cave: A case study of Puerto Princesa Underground River, Palawan, the Philippines. Geomorphology 229, pp. 125-133 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.10.007). (IF2015 2.813, Scopus 11, Google Scholar 15)

Piccini Leonardo, De Waele Jo, Galli Ermanno, Polyak Victor J., Bernasconi Stefano M., Asmerom Yemane (2015) - Sulphuric acid speleogenesis and landscape evolution: Montecchio Cave, Albegna River Valley (Southern Tuscany, Italy). Geomorphology 229, pp. 134-143 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.10.006). (IF2015 2.813, Scopus 14, Google Scholar 27)

Caddeo Guglielmo A., Railsback Loren Bruce, De Waele Jo, Frau Franco (2015) - Stable isotope data as constraints on models for the origin of coralloid and massive speleothems: the interplay of substrate, water supply, degassing, and evaporation. Sedimentary Geology 318, pp. 130-141 (DOI: 10.1016/j.sedgeo.2014.12.008). (IF2015 2.236, Scopus 18, Google Scholar 21)

D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Sanna Laura, Calzoni Claudio, De Waele Jo (2015) - Uplifted flank margin caves in telogenetic limestones in the Gulf of Orosei (Central-East Sardinia - Italy) and their palaeogeographic significance. Geomorphology 231, pp. 202-211 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.12.008). (IF2015 2.813, Scopus 8, Google Scholar 9)

Columbu Andrea, De Waele Jo, Forti Paolo, Montagna Paolo, Picotti Vincenzo, Pons-Branchu Edwige, Hellstrom John, Bajo Petra, Drysdale Russell (2015) - Gypsum caves as indicators of climate-driven river incision and aggradation in a rapidly uplifting region. Geology, 43(6), 539-542 (DOI: 10.1130/G36595.1). (IF2015 4.548, Scopus 25, Google Scholar 28)

Tisato Nicola, Torriano Stefano F.F., Monteux Sylvain, Sauro Francesco, De Waele Jo, Tavagna Maria Luisa, D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Chailloux Daniel, Renda Michel, Eglinton Timothy I., Bontognali Tomaso Renzo Rezio (2015) – Microbial mediation of complex subterranean mineral structures. Scientific Reports 5: article 15525, 10 p. (DOI: 10.1038/srep15525). (IF2015 5.228, Scopus 24, Google Scholar 32)

De Waele Jo, Audra Philippe, Madonia Giuliana, Vattano Marco, Plan Lukas, D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Bigot Jean-Yves, Nobécourt Jean-Claude (2016) - Sulfuric acid speleogenesis (SAS) close to the water table: examples from southern France, Austria, and Sicily. Geomorphology 253, pp. 452-467 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2015.10.019). (IF2016 2.958, Scopus 24, Google Scholar 42)

Bontognali Tomaso Renzo Rezio, D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Tisato Nicola, Vasconcelos Crisogono, Bernasconi Stefano M., Grau Gonzales Esteban Ruben, De Waele Jo (2016) - Mushroom speleothems: stromatolites that formed in the absence of phototrophs. Frontiers in Earth Science, 4, article 49. (DOI: 10.3389/feart.2016.00049). (Scopus 10, Google Scholar 7)

Carbone Cristina, Dinelli Enrico, De Waele Jo (2016) - Characterization of minothems at Libiola (NW Italy): morphological, mineralogical, and geochemical study. International Journal of Speleology 45(2), 171-183 (DOI: 10.5038/1827-806X.45.2.1944). (IF2016 1.439, Scopus 3, Google Scholar 3)

Fabbri Stefano, Sauro Francesco, Santagata Tommaso, Rossi Guido, De Waele Jo (2017) - High-resolution 3-D mapping using terrestrial laser scanning as a tool for geomorphological and speleogenetical studies in caves: an example from the Lessini mountains (North Italy). Geomorphology 280, pp. 16-29. (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2016.12.001​). (IF2017 3.308, Scopus 22, Google Scholar 28)

Chiarini Veronica, Couchoud Isabelle, Drysdale Russell, Bajo Petra, Milanolo Simone, Frisia Silvia, Hellstrom John, De Waele Jo (2017) - Petrographical and geochemical changes in Bosnian stalagmites and their palaeo-environmental significance. International Journal of Speleology, 46(1), pp. 33-49 (DOI: 10.5038/1827-806X.46.1.2057). (IF2017 1.392, Scopus 8, Google Scholar 12)

De Waele Jo, Carbone Cristina, Sanna Laura, Vattano Marco, Galli Ermanno, Francesco Sauro, Forti Paolo (2017) - Secondary minerals from salt caves in the Atacama Desert (Chile): a hyperarid and hypersaline environment with potential analogies to the Martian subsurface. International Journal of Speleology, 46(1), pp. 51-66 (DOI: 10.5038/1827-806X.46.1.2094). (IF2017 1.392, Scopus 8, Google Scholar 9)

Forti Paolo, Badino Giovanni, Calaforra José Maria, De Waele Jo (2017) - The ribbed drapery of the Puerto Princesa Underground River (Palawan, Philippines): morphology and genesis. International Journal of Speleology, 46(1), pp. 93-97 (DOI: 10.5038/1827-806X.46.1.2011). (IF2017 1.392, Scopus 2, Google Scholar 5)

De Waele Jo, Piccini Leonardo, Columbu Andrea, Madonia Giuliana, Vattano Marco, Calligaris Chiara, D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Parise Mario, Chiesi Mauro, Sivelli Michele, Vigna Bartolomeo, Zini Luca, Chiarini Veronica, Sauro Francesco, Drysdale Russell N., Forti Paolo (2017) – Evaporite karst in Italy: a review. International Journal of Speleology, 46(2), pp. 137-168 (DOI: 10.5038/1827-806X.46.2.2107). (IF2017 1.392, Scopus 18, Google Scholar 20)

De Waele Jo, D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Tisato Nicola, Tuccimei Paola, Soligo Michele, Ginés Joaquín, Ginés Angel, Fornós Joan J., Villa Igor M., Grau González Esteban R., Bernasconi Stefano M., Bontognali Tomaso R.R. (2017) - Coastal uplift rate at Matanzas (Cuba) inferred from MIS5e phreatic overgrowths on speleothems. Terra Nova, 29, pp. 98-105 (DOI: 10.1111/ter.12253). (IF2017 2.229, Scopus 4, Google Scholar 5)

Leuko Stefan, Koskinen Kaisa, Sanna Laura, D'Angeli Ilenia Maria, De Waele Jo, Marcia Paolo, Moissl-Eichinger Christine, Rettberg Petra (2017) - The influence of human exploration on the microbial community structure and ammonia oxidizing potential of the Su Bentu limestone cave in Sardinia, Italy. PLoS ONE, 12(7): e0180700. (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180700). (IF2017 2.766, Scopus 4, Google Scholar 9)

Columbu Andrea, Drysdale Russell N., Capron Emilie, Woodhead Jon, De Waele Jo, Sanna Laura, Hellstrom John, Bajo Petra (2017) - Early last glacial intra-interstadial climate variability recorded in a Sardinian speleothem. Quaternary Science Reviews, 169, pp. 391-397. (DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2017.05.007). (IF2017 4.334, Scopus 12, Google Scholar 15)

Columbu Andrea, Chiarini Veronica, De Waele Jo, Drysdale Russell, Woodhead Jon, Hellstrom John, Forti Paolo (2017) - Late quaternary speleogenesis and landscape evolution in the northern Apennine evaporite areas. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 42(19), pp. 1447-1459. DOI: 10.1002/esp.4099). (IF2017 3.722, Scopus 11, Google Scholar 14)

Ulloa Andrés, Gázquez Fernando, Sanz-Arranz Aurelio, Medina Jesús, Rull Fernando, Calaforra José María, Alvarado Guillermo E., Martínez María, Avard Geoffroy, de Moor J. Maarten, De Waele Jo (2018) - Extremely high diversity of sulfate minerals in caves of the Irazú volcano (Costa Rica) related with crater lake and fumarolic activity. International Journal of Speleology, 47(2), pp. 229-249 (DOI: 10.5038/1827-806X.47.2.2198). (Scopus 1, Google Scholar 2)

Gázquez Fernando, Columbu Andrea, De Waele Jo, Breitenbach Sebastian, Huang Ci-Rong, Shen Chuan Chou, Lu Yanbin, Calaforra José Maria, Mleneck-Vautravers Maryline J., Hodell David A. (2018) – Quantification of paleo-aquifer changes using clumped isotopes in subaqueous carbonate speleothems. Chemical Geology, 493, pp. 246-257 (DOI: 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2018.05.046). (Scopus 5, Google Scholar 5)

D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Carbone Cristina, Nagostinis Maria, Parise Mario, Vattano Marco, Madonia Giuliana, De Waele Jo (2018) - New insights on secondary minerals from Italian sulfuric acid caves. International Journal of Speleology, 47(3), 271-291 (DOI: 10.5038/1827-806X.47.3.2175). (Scopus 10, Google Scholar 11)

De Waele Jo, Fabbri Stefano, Santagata Tommaso, Chiarini Veronica, Columbu Andrea, Pisani Luca (2018) - Geomorphological and speleogenetical observations using terrestrial laser scanning and 3D photogrammetry in a gypsum cave (Emilia Romagna, N-Italy). Geomorphology, 319, pp. 47-61 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2018.07.012). (Scopus 9, Google Scholar 12)

Sauro Francesco, Columbu Andrea, De Waele Jo, Lundberg Joyce, Drysdale Russell N. (2018) - Palaeoenvironmental changes recorded by speleothems of the Southern Alps (Piani Eterni, Belluno, Italy) during four interglacial to glacial climate transitions. Quaternary Science Reviews, 197, pp. 319-335 (DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2018.08.006). (Scopus 10, Google Scholar 13)

De Waele Jo. D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Bontognali Tomaso Renzo Rezio, Tuccimei Paola, Scholz Denis, Jochum Klaus Peter, Columbu Andrea, Bernasconi Stefano M., Fornós Joan J., Grau Gonzalez Esteban R., Tisato Nicola (2018) - Speleothems in a North Cuban cave register sea-level changes and Pleistocene uplift rates. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 43, pp. 2313-2326 (DOI: 10.1002/esp.4393). (Scopus 5, Google Scholar 6)

Sauro Francesco, Cappelletti Martina, Ghezzi Daniele, Columbu Andrea, Pei-Ying Hong, Zowawi Hosam Mamoon, Carbone Cristina, Piccini Leonardo, Vergara Freddy, Zannoni Davide, De Waele Jo (2018) - Microbial diversity and biosignatures of amorphous silica deposits in orthoquartzite caves. Scientific Reports, 8, 17569 (DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-35532-y). (Scopus 7, Google Scholar 9)

Pisani Luca, Antonellini Marco, De Waele Jo (2019) – Structural control on epigenic gypsum cave: evidences from Messinian evaporites (Northern Apennines, Italy). Geomorphology, 332, pp. 170-186 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2019.02.016). (Scopus 5, Google Scholar 5)

D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Parise Mario, Vattano Marco, Madonia Giuliana, Galdenzi Sandro, De Waele Jo (2019) - Sulfuric acid caves of Italy: a review. Geomorphology, 333, pp. 105-122 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2019.02.025). (Scopus 2, Google Scholar 3)

D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Nagostinis Maria, Carbone Cristina, Bernasconi Stefano M., Polyak Victor J., Peters Lisa, McIntosch William C., De Waele Jo (2019) - Sulfuric acid speleogenesis in the Majella Massif (Abruzzo, Central Apennines, Italy). Geomorphology, 333, p. 167-179 (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2019.02.036). (Scopus 2, Google Scholar 3)

Audra Philippe, De Waele Jo, Bentaleb Ilham, Chroňáková Alica, Krištůfek Václav, D’Angeli Ilenia M., Carbone Cristina, Madonia Giuliana, Vattano Marco, Scopelliti Giovanna, Cailhol Didier, Vanara Nathalie, Temovski Marjan, Bigot Jean-Yves, Nobécourt Jean-Claude, Galli Ermanno, Rull Fernando, Sanz-Arranz Aurelio (2019) - Guano-related phosphate-rich minerals in European caves. International Journal of Speleology, 48(1), pp. 75-105 (DOI: 10.5038/1827-806X.48.1.2252). (Scopus 2, Google Scholar 9)

Sauro Francesco, Mecchia Marco, Piccini Leonardo, De Waele Jo, Carbone Cristina, Columbu Andrea, Pisani Luca, Vergara Freddy (2019) - Genesis of giant sinkholes and caves in the quartz sandstone of Sarisariñama tepui, Venezuela. Geomorphology, 342, pp. 223-238. (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2019.06.017) (Scopus 3, Google Scholar 3).

Addesso Rosangela, Bellino Alessandro, D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, De Waele Jo, Miller Ana Zelia, Carbone Cristina, Baldantoni Daniela (2019) – Vermiculations from karst caves: the case of Pertosa-Auletta system (Italy). Catena, 182, 104178. (DOI: 10.1016/j.catena.2019.104178). (Scopus 1, Google Scholar 1).

Columbu Andrea, Spötl Christoph, De Waele Jo, Tsai-Luen Yu, Chuan-Chou Shen, Gázquez Fernando (2019) - A long record of MIS 7 and MIS 5 climate and environment from a western Mediterranean speleothem (SW Sardinia, Italy). Quaternary Science Reviews, 220, pp. 230-243 (DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.07.023). (Scopus 2, Google Scholar 2).

D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Ghezzi Daniele, Leuko Stefano, Firrincieli Andrea, Parise Mario, Fiorucci Adriano, Vigna Bartolomeo, Addesso Rosangela, Baldantoni Daniela, Carbone Cristina, Miller Ana Zelia, Jurado Valme, Saiz-Jimenez Cesareo, De Waele Jo, Cappelletti Martina (2019) - Geomicrobiology of a seawater-influenced active sulfuric acid cave. PlosOne, 14(8), e0220706. (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220706). (Scopus 0, Google Scholar 1).

D’Angeli Ilenia Maria, Naylor Larissa A., Lee Martin, Miller Ana Zelia, Mylroie John E., De Waele Jo (2020) - Light attenuation as a control for microbiogeomorphic features: implications for coastal cave speleogenesis. Geomorphology, 354, Article 107054, 12 pages (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2020.107054). (Scopus 0, Google Scholar 0).

 Sauro Francesco, Mecchia Marco, Tringham Mark, Arbenz Thomas, Columbu Andrea, Carbone Cristina, Pisani Luca, De Waele Jo (2020) - Speleogenesis of the world’s longest cave in hybrid arenites (Krem Puri, Meghalaya, India). Geomorphology, 359, Article 107160, 23 pages (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2020.107160) (Scopus 0, Google Scholar 0).

Columbu Andrea, Chiarini Veronica, Spötl Christoph, Benazzi Stefano, Hellstrom John, Cheng Hai, De Waele Jo (2020) - Speleothem record attests to stable environmental conditions during Neanderthal- modern human turnover in southern Italy. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 4, pp. 1188-1195. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1243-1 (Scopus 0, Google Scholar 0).

Sauro Francesco, Pozzobon Riccardo, Massironi Matteo, De Berardinis Pierluigi, Santagata Tommaso, De Waele Jo (2020) - Lava tubes on Earth, Moon and Mars: A review on their size and morphology revealed by comparative planetology. Earth-Science Reviews, Article 103288,  (DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2020.103288) (Scopus 0, Google Scholar 0).

De Waele Jo, Picotti Vincenzo, Martina Mario Lloyd Virgilio, Brook George, Yang Linhai, Forti Paolo (2020) - Holocene evolution of halite caves in the Cordillera de la Sal (Central Atacama, Chile) in different climate conditions. Geomorphology, Article 107398 (accepted August 2020). (DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2020.107398) (Scopus 0, Google Scholar 0).