Karst Caves


Mario Parise


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Publication Date

July 2017


Karst refers to the processes of chemical dissolution and mechanical erosion acting on soluble rocks (mainly carbonates and evaporites), and to the surface and subsurface landforms thus produced. In their book Karst Hydrogeology and Geomorphology, Derek Ford and Paul Williams state that about 20 percent of the emerged Earth’s surface is karst, with caves representing a typical and well-known expression (see Ford and Williams 2007, cited under Karst Hydrogeology: The Importance of Karst Aquifers). Together with caves, karst lands are characterized by underground drainages and by scarce presence of water running at the surface. Water, rather than flowing on the ground as watercourses and rivers, rapidly infiltrates underground through networks of fissures and conduits, which combine to the diffuse flow in recent carbonates, giving origin to the complex systems of karst caves. Karst environments and caves have been of interest to humans since the earliest civilizations—for water supply, as settlements or areas of protection, or to bury the dead. Some of the more ancient testimonies of art are within caves, such as those in several caverns of the Mediterranean area (including, to mention the most remarkable, Lascaux and Chauvet in France, Altamira in Spain, and Porto Badisco in Italy). Karst research, which is linked to caving exploration, had a great impulse in the second half of the 20th century. Caves have been recognized as a very precious and peculiar environment, where traces of the past, in terms of sediments (see Sasowsky and Mylroie 2004, cited under Cave Deposits) or evidence of paleoclimate (see Fairchild and Baker 2012, cited under Contribution to Paleoclimatic Studies), have been preserved, often in great detail, in contrast to what occurs at Earth’s surface, where most of it is being destroyed, canceled, or covered by later processes. As a consequence, the classical studies about speleogenesis (that is, the origin of caves) and on geomorphology of the underground settings have developed in integration w

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