KGS geologist Ben Tobin publishes new article, "Cave and karst of the Grand Canyon World Heritage Site"

March 16, 2021

When we think about the Grand Canyon National Park and World Heritage Site, we envision the steep and rocky sides of the canyon carved by the Colorado River. But the park is also home to an extensive and ancient cave system, with many cave entrances in the cliff walls. Kentucky Geological Survey geologist Ben Tobin has been studying caves in both the Grand Canyon and Kentucky, and a recent article by Tobin, Abraham Springer of Northern Arizona University, and Jason Ballensky and Andy Armstrong of the National Speleological Society, published in Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie, describes the knowledge base about the caves at Grand Canyon National Park. Although more than 300 caves have been identified in the park, there is still much we don’t know about the cave system.

Cave systems are highly sensitive to change and, as a result, provide a great place to study a variety of environmental issues. Tobin and his co-authors described the sensitive resources of Grand Canyon caves, and the management issues facing them in the article. These concerns provide a basis for understanding the complex interactions between human actions and caves that we see throughout karst landscapes, including here in Kentucky. Research identifying connections between the formation of older Grand Canyon caves and the regional groundwater systems of today can improve our understanding of the complex cave and karst systems throughout our commonwealth. Sierra Heimel, a master’s degree student in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is also working with Tobin and colleagues to determine how caves in the Grand Canyon formed and how these caves relate to the modern-day regional groundwater system.

This work is part of a Cooperative Ecosystems Study Unit funding agreement between the Kentucky Geological Survey and Grand Canyon National Park to study the caves and groundwater systems of the park.

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KGS geologist Ben Tobin admires gypsum curls in Double Bopper Cave.
KGS geologist Ben Tobin admires gypsum curls in Double Bopper Cave. These curls form slowly over time and eventually collapse to the floor under their own weight. Some in Double Bopper have been seen exceeding 60cm in length. Photo by Stephen Eginoire.
Last Modified on 2021-04-07
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