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J. Judson Wynne
J. Judson Wynne

Cave Research Scientist
U.S. Geological Survey-Southwest Biological Science Center

Who I am and what I do
Currently, I am a cave research scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey-Southwest Biological Science Center and I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences (emphasis: cave ecosystem ecology/ remote sensing of caves) at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. I am also in the process of launching Corps of Discovery International, a non-profit organization specializing in expeditionary science. The organization will support expeditionary science project that demonstrate a benefit to the host country through capacity building and sustainability.

My interest in caves research began in Belize, Central America. I was working for the Belize Institute of Archaeology to inventory the ecology of a potential tourism cave. I became fascinated with the fragile ecosystems supported within caves. I have since explored and worked in numerous caves in Arizona, New Mexico, and Belize and will dedicate my career to studying the subterranean world. My interests in cave ecology include cavernicole (cave-dwelling) vertebrates and invertebrates, nutrient inputs into caves, trophic interactions, niche specialization of cavernicoles, bat use of caves, and ecological communities within cave entrances.

Regarding remote sensing of caves, I am the concept developer and terrestrial lead of a NASA (Astrobiology Program)-funded phase one study to demonstrate cave detection is possible using thermal remote sensing imagery. I am working with a multidisciplinary team to characterize the thermal properties of cave entrances using a combination of ground-based measurements and thermography. Thus far, we have demonstrated Earth-bound cave detection using thermal remote sensing is possible. Temperature differences between cave entrances and surrounding terra firma are shown to fluctuate widely, based on data collected at caves in northern Arizona and western New Mexico. Additionally, collaborators in Missouri collecting imagery with a thermographic/infrared camera have demonstrated cave entrances may be detected at distances to 300 meters with a temperature difference between cave entrance and surrounding vegetation of ~20° F. Also, by capturing thermographic images of the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, our collaborators have demonstrated a 10° to 30° F temperature difference between the internal surface of the cave walls and the surface of the external rock. The techniques developed through Earth-bound cave detection will ultimately be applied to Mars cave detection. This technology will be used to target caves for robotic exploration, where these robots will enter these caves and search for evidence of life. We are currently preparing for Phase two of this research, which will likely involve studying the caves of the Atacama Desert.

Areas of expertise
My experience and expertise include the following: cave survey and mapping; technical climbing and caving; bat capture, handling and identification; invertebrate cave-dwelling taxa trapping and identification; study design and sampling of wildlife populations; interpretation and analysis of remotely sensed imagery (satellite and aircraft scanner platforms); techniques involved with remotely sensed imagery capture; orienteering; and, endurance training.

How I first became interested in this profession
Since I was a child, I had the heart of an explorer and was always interested in wildlife. During the summers and weekends of my adolescence, I would leave early in the morning to explore the woods, ditches and marshes throughout my south Georgia island home. Often times, I would not return until well after sunset -- much to the chagrin of my parents. While on my "expeditions," I studied the land, I learned how to find read animal sign and determine where certain animals were likely to be found. As a result, I brought home snakes, frogs, turtles, baby raccoons, as well as a menagerie of wounded wildlife. Ultimately, my quest for exploration lead me into research, where I have conducted numerous projects in the fields of archaeology and ecology.

What helped prepare me for this job
There are two things which have prepared me for my line of work: (1) academic training and field experience, and (2) endurance and adventure race training. I have an M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy from Northern Arizona University (NAU) and a UNESCO/ Cousteau Certificate in Ecotechnie from the Free University of Brussels. Field experience includes working in some of the most remote areas in the southwestern United States, as well as in Belize and Mexico, Scotland and Belgium. Because working underground in caves is incredibly challenging, I train intensively to maintain top physical condition, and train multiple events at least once per week. In the past year, I have competitively completed the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon (a 43-mile race from ~4500 to 11,501 feet), Imogene Pass Run (7810 to 8820 feet through the Imogene Pass of 13,120 feet), the 10.2 mile Soulstice Trail Run, and five 10K races. I'm currently training for a 50-mile ultra-marathon. This combination of academic training, field experience and endurance training have provided me with the ability to work in the subterranean world.

Role Models
Captain Jacques Yves Cousteau, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert Nesta Marley

My career path
I will complete my Ph.D., become the executive director of my own non-profit organization, and work internationally. My research focus is cave ecology. However, my organization will be more dynamic. The organization will be willing to work with researchers from all scientific disciplines proposing expeditionary research projects.

What I like about my job
Because there is so little known about cave-dwelling organisms, biospeleologists (cave biologists) are constantly making new species discoveries. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of my job would be making new species discoveries. Currently, I have at least five new species discoveries from collaborative work with the National Park Service in northwestern Arizona.

What I don't like about my job
Very little.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Perhaps somewhat biased, but science is the most exciting profession on the planet. I recommend those interested in becoming scientists to study hard and load up on science and math classes. However, students and scientists should never forget the importance of living life fully and being happy. School and research can be demanding and this makes many researchers happy. But I fully believe there is more to life than keeping one's nose buried in books and being armpit deep in experiments. Get out there explore the world, explore nature, explore culture, and explore your relationships with those you encounter. Enjoy! Embrace! Enjoy!

I also enjoy teaching children and the general public regarding the importance of conserving and properly managing caves and the animals know to inhabit them. I commonly lecture at schools and public forums on these issues.

I've been a musician for the past 15 years. I play guitar, harmonica, sing and song write. Since living in Flagstaff, I periodically play local clubs and festivals.

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Last Updated:June, 2006
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