Caves and Karst

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Book Chapter

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Aquifer, Biospeleology, Cave/karst tourism, Caves, Dolines, Endokarst, Exokarst, Human-karst disturbance, Hydrograph analysis, Karren, Karst, Speleogenesis, Springs, Water tracing

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The term Karst relates to landscapes that have been shaped by the dissolution of carbonate rocks such as limestone and dolomite. Features that are commonly thought to characterize this distinct landscape include caves, springs, and sinkholes. However, such a description greatly oversimplifies this broad scientific discipline. Even before scientists started researching the limestone environments of the Dinaric Plateau of southern Europe, humans and Neanderthals understood the importance of karst using its resources for over 200,000 years. Caves were used for shelter and cultural proposes, limestone for building materials and springs for water supplies. Since its infancy in the late 1800s, karst research has blossomed into distinct scientific fields such as speleology (study of caves), geomorphology (surface features), hydrology (aquifers and springs), geoengineering (mapping subsurface features), anthropology (cultural use of karst) and biospeleology (life in karst). In this article we introduce readers to the main concepts of these various fields. We will also highlight the economic importance of karst but also how its exploitation can have dire consequences for what is a fragile environment. Its fragility arises from the very nature of what makes karst unique. Rural and urban development can contaminate aquifers, destroy caves and surface karst features, and also threaten highly adapted species that live in the subterranean environment. Only through careful management can humans continue to thrive on karst landscapes.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Caves and Karst, in Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, Elsevier