Caves and Karst
Chris Grove

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Karst science and education are thriving in the United States as never before. In 2001, an active agenda of programs, conferences, and publications highlighted significant progress made by resource-management experts in academia, government, and the private sector to develop a more sophisticated understanding of karst systems and the challenges they present. Many articles appearing last year in the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies and in other publications attest to the quality and quantity of karst research in the United States and its increasing value to scientists in other academic disciplines.

In 2001, the American Geological Institute published Living with Karst: A Fragile Foundation. Through text and illustrations, the 64-page booklet identifies the nature of karst resources and uses of karst areas from a cultural perspective and describes the principles of karst landscape and groundwater behavior. After relating these topics to human-karst environmental interactions, including those that cause flooding, collapse, and groundwater contamination, the authors discuss possible solutions to these problems. Throughout, the booklet provides information useful to developing strategies for careful management of karst resources.
Journey into Amazing Caves, a large-format adventure cinema, opened in spring 2001 at IMAX theaters throughout the United States. The film follows two young scientists on their exploratory journey through spectacular and unusual caves in Arizona, Greenland, and Mexico as they search for cave microorganisms that might lead to new antibiotics. Through the adventures of these cave explorers, viewers experience different types of caves. While the intent was to create a visually spectacular film, the producers also developed educational materials about caves and karst, protection of cave resources, and cave protection laws that were distributed to school groups and made available on the Internet.

An increasing number of research programs at undergraduate and graduate levels are focusing on hydrogeology, ecology, and water resources in karst areas. This trend should continue for the foreseeable future as more karst scientists and resource managers are trained, public awareness of karst continues to grow, and increased awareness spurs new funding opportunities. In June 2001, the Karst Field Studies program presented by the Western Kentucky University Center for Cave and Karst Studies, one of the nation's longest running karst-education programs at the university level, held its 21st session at Mammoth Cave National Park.


In February 2001, the U.S. Geological Survey Karst Interest Group held its first national conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., bringing together USGS scientists, other Department of Interior scientists and managers, and university researchers. Thirty-seven presentations covered a wide range of topics, including karst ecosystems, natural resource development in karst areas, the geologic framework of karst systems, aquifer hydraulics in karst systems, numerical modeling in karst, geochemistry of karst systems, geophysical methods in karst, contaminant transport in karst, and tracers in karst. An excellent proceedings volume, USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4011, edited by USGS hydrogeologist Eve L. Kuniansky, is available online.

The Eighth Multidisciplinary Conference on Sinkholes and the Engineering and Environmental Impacts of Karst took place in Louisville, Ky., in April, bringing together an international group of karst engineers, scientists, and planners to discuss sinkhole collapse and remediation, groundwater flow and contamination, and other applied karst issues.

Other national gatherings in 2001 included the annual convention of the National Speleological Society in Mount Vernon, Ky.; the 15th National Cave and Karst Management Symposium in Tucson, Ariz.; and the session, "Geochemistry of Karst Waters: A Window on Hydrogeology and Biota," at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Boston, Mass., last November.

Research groups

Karst research groups within and outside of university centers continue to develop throughout the United States. A consortium between the Cave Research Foundation (CRF), Western Kentucky University (WKU), and the National Park Service, for example, is developing programs in graduate education, karst geology and biogeochemical research, and water-resource protection. Much of their work takes place in Kentucky, where CRF recently opened its Hamilton Valley Research Station and national headquarters adjacent to Mammoth Cave National Park; the park is developing a Long Term Ecological Monitoring program and Learning Center as well. The consortium is also actively involved in karst water-resource studies in a 500,000-square-kilometer area of south China, which supplies water to some 80 million mostly rural residents. Through the WKU/CRF China program, 18 exchange trips between the two nations have taken place, four of them in 2001.

Other active karst graduate programs are thriving, including those at the University of Missouri (Columbia), University of Akron, Mississippi State University, and the State University of New York at Oneonta.

New initiatives of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI) include cooperative efforts with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to support publication of the book, Vertebrate Paleontology of Pleistocene Cave Deposits in North America. The institute is also working with the USGS to support karst-mapping programs and the second Karst Interest Group Workshop in Shepherdstown, W.Va. NCKRI interim director Zelda Chapman Bailey is actively communicating with karst research and education groups around the United States, and several projects are now underway to support graduate education programs in environmental management and a nationwide cave microbial DNA inventory.

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Groves is an associate professor and director of Western Kentucky University's Hoffman Environmental Research Institute. E-mail.

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