The Origin of Maze Caves

Arthur N. Palmer

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A maze cave consists of a network or irregular pattern of solution passages containing numerous closed loops of contemporaneous origin. Examination of field data indicates two common settings under which nearly all maze development occurs: (1) where soluble rock receives diffuse groundwater recharge from the overlying surface or through an adjacent formation; and (2) where ground water in a cavernous region undergoes great variations in discharge and in hydraulic head, owing to floodwater recharge. In case 1, water is supplied uniformly to all major fractures within the cavernous zone, so that each one experiences camparable rates of solution. This type of recharge generally occurs in karst aquifers capped by permeable but insoluble rock, or in isolated hills of soluble rock. In case 2, ponding occurs behind constrictions during peak flow in active stream pasages, resulting in the rapid development of blind fissures and diversion mazes. In either cave, mechanical joint enlargement by tectonic forces or by removal of overburden favors the development of joint-controlled network mazes. Other settings commonly associated with maze caves, such as artesian karst aquifers, appear to have only an indirect influence on maze development.