Mathematical Geology

, Volume 18, Issue 8, pp 765–783

Fractal dimensions and geometries of caves

  • Rane L. Curl


Lengths of all caves in a region have been observed previously to be distributed hyperbolically, like self-similar geomorphic phenomena identified by Mandelbrot as exhibiting fractal geometry. Proper cave lengths exhibit a fractal dimension of about 1.4. These concepts are extended to other self-similar geometric properties of caves with the following consequences.

Lengths of a cave is defined as the sum of sizes of passage-filling, linked modular elements larger than the cave-defining modulus. If total length of all caves in a region is a self-similar fractal, it has a fractal dimension between 2 and 3; and the total number of linked modular elements in a region is a self-similar fractal of the same dimension. Cave volume in any modular element size range may be calculated from the distribution.

The expected conditional distribution of modular element sizes in a cave, given length and modulus, also is distributed hyperbolically. Data from Little Brush Creek Cave (Utah) agree and yield a fractal dimension of about 2.8 (like the Menger Sponge). The expected number of modular elements in a cave equals approximately the 0.9 power of length of the cave divided by modulus. This result yields an intriguing “parlor trick.” An algorithm for estimating modular element sizes from survey data provides a means for further analysis of cave surveys.

Key words

caves fractals self-similarity 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rane L. Curl
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor

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