Francesco Sauro
Exploring a lava tube in Lanzarote Island Author: Alessio Romeo
2023

Francesco Sauro

Speleologist/Geologist

Earth’s Subterranean Frontiers

meet francesco

Francesco Sauro, an Italian speleologist and geologist, is president of the La Venta Geographical Exploration Association. Over the course of more than 30 expeditions, he has explored caves and canyons from South America to Central Asia, leading multidisciplinary teams of researchers to some of the most remote regions on our planet. In addition to teaching planetary geology at the University of Bologna, Sauro serves as technical director for two of the European Space Agency training programs—CAVES (Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising Human Behaviour and Performance Skills) and PANGAEA. The latter uses analogue environments to teach astronauts the basics of field geology and astrobiology. He has published more than 45 scientific papers and three books.

Earth’s Subterranean Frontiers
Nominated by: Richard Wiese FN'89
Class of 2023 Location Italy
Observing an opal stromatolite formation in Imawari Yeuta cave, Auyan Tepui, Venezuela
Observing an opal stromatolite formation in Imawari Yeuta cave, Auyan Tepui, Venezuela Author: Francesco Lo Mastro/La Venta

Some 30 percent of fresh drinking water is found in cave aquifers, while scientists estimate that some 40 percent of Earth’s biodiversity thrives underground, yet what lies below our feet remains mostly unknown and overlooked by our research institutions and humanity as a whole.

My work has been dedicated to lifting the veil on this hidden subterranean world and to communicate its importance to a broader public—to protect it and underscore its importance in our planet’s overall ecosystem. In the process, I also hope to convey that sense of wonder that is to be found in caves.

From what we know of Earth’s protective underground environments, which can shield us from harmful UV radiation, we know that finding analogue environments on other planets—massive caves and cave systems—may prove crucial for future human habitation there, as well as aid in our search for extraterrestrial life.

“My work has been dedicated to lifting the veil on this hidden subterranean world and to communicate its importance to a broader public—to protect it and underscore its importance in our planet’s overall ecosystem.”

- Francesco Sauro

Given that we are creatures living on the surface of our planet, our perception of its inner recesses tends to be skewed, as is also the case with the oceans and the upper atmosphere. Yet speleologists continue to push the boundaries of human exploration on Earth—not only in remote regions of our planet but also within the well-known mountain chains of Europe. From the discoveries I have made in cave exploration over a vast range of different geological formations and terrain—limestone, quartzite, salt, granite, basalts, ice, and such—I am acutely aware of the potential of finding new forms of life in these subterranean environments. It stands to reason, therefore, that, should life exist elsewhere in the universe, on other planets, it just might be found teeming underground rather than on the surface.

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