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.
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
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!
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.