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Karst Is a Landscape

A karst landscape has sinkholes, sinking streams, caves, and springs. The term "karst" is derived from a Slavic word that means barren, stony ground. It is also the name of a region in Slovenia near the border with Italy that is well known for its sinkholes and springs. Geologists have adopted karst as the term for all such terrain. The term "karst" describes the whole landscape, not a single sinkhole or spring. A karst landscape most commonly develops on limestone, but can develop on several other types of rocks, such as dolostone (magnesium carbonate or the mineral dolomite), gypsum, and salt. Precipitation infiltrates into the soil and flows into the subsurface from higher elevations and generally toward a stream at a lower elevation. Weak acids found naturally in rain and soil water slowly dissolve the tiny fractures in the soluble bedrock, enlarging the joints and bedding planes. Below is a schematic diagram of karst terrain in Kentucky.

Generalized block diagram showing typical karst landscape in Kentucky . Other types of karst features occur that are not illustrated.

Generalized block diagram showing typical karst landscape in Kentucky . Other types of karst features occur that are not illustrated.

Technical Definition of Karst:

A terrain, generally underlain by limestone or dolomite, in which the topography is chiefly formed by the dissolving of rock and which may be characterized by sinkholes, sinking streams, closed depressions, subterranean drainage, and caves.

(Monroe, W.H., 1970, A glossary of karst terminology: U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Supply Paper 1899, 26 p.)