Spelunking for a cause

Michael Bradford, senior in geology and geophysics, works with several organizations to improve caves. Photo by Sam O'Keefe.

Michael Bradford, senior in geology and geophysics, works with several organizations to improve caves. Photo by Sam O’Keefe.

Michael Bradford, senior in geology and geophysics with a minor in geological engineering, does not shy away from dirty work. Currently, he is doing research with the Missouri Bat Census that involves checking caves for bats with White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease that causes abnormal behavior in bats and eventually leads to their death.

“I look for the white fungal growth on the bats, usually around the wing and muzzle area,” he says. “After each cave trip, I have to follow strict decontamination procedures to be sure not to spread WNS.”

Bradford builds cave gates with the Cave Research Foundation to help protect bats and cave formations and also works with the Missouri Cave and Karst Conservancy on the Goodwin Sink Project, located in Laclede County. “It’s a sinkhole that has been used as an illegal dump site since the 1950s, and over the past couple years we have removed a great deal of tires, debris and trash cleaning it out,” he says. “We are hopeful that we can gain access to a bigger cave passage, allowing water to naturally flow through easier.”

His work with caves is not limited to bat counts and clean-ups. “I survey and map caves across Missouri for the Missouri Speleological Survey (MSS) and send in new data to the MSS to update the cave database,” he says.

A passionate spelunker originally from Lake Springs, Mo., Bradford has been to more than 200 caves throughout the United States, four of which have been featured in National Geographic magazine. He is a true outdoorsman with hobbies that include hunting, trapping, fishing, rock climbing, kayaking and backpacking. He is currently vice president of the MSM Spelunkers, the oldest recognized caving grotto in Missouri, and is a director for the MSS. He is a member of the National Speleological Society, the Southeastern Cave Conservancy and Campus Christian Fellowship; is president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists C.L. Dake Society; and is the head student ambassador for S&T.

With his father employed by the U.S. Geological Survey, Bradford says he knew he wanted to be a geologist since he was a child. “Growing up, I always had an interest in the outdoors and caves, and I would always find myself asking my dad why and how certain things on Earth formed,” he says.

Post-college, Bradford hopes to pursue a career that emphasizes work in the subsurface of the Earth. For the moment, however, he is enjoying spelunking and learning. “I can go outside the classroom and gain further knowledge from all the resources available,” he says. “I am going further than I could have ever possibly imagined.”

By Arielle Bodine


  1. Jeff Griffin says

    I have a group of Varsity Scouts that will be working on the Varsity Caving Pin on August 9th and Sept. 13th in St. Roberts. The caving portion of the Varsity Scout book is attached. Saturday August 9th is the class room instruction and Sept. 13th is the caving adventure part. The class room portion on Aug. 9th is from 10am to 4pm. I typically get a geologist to come in for an hour or so, lunch for an hour, and then give the Spelunker 3 to 4 hours to talk about everything needed for going in a cave and what to expect. If this is something you would be interested in helping teach please let me know.