Karst is a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks
such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It is characterized by
underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. It has also
been documented for more weathering-resistant rocks, such as
quartzite, given the right conditions. Subterranean drainage may
limit surface water, with few to no rivers or lakes. However, in
regions where the dissolved bedrock is covered (perhaps by debris) or
confined by one or more superimposed non-soluble rock strata,
distinctive karst features may occur only at subsurface levels and be
totally missing above ground.
The study of karst is considered of prime importance in petroleum
geology since as much as 50% of the world's hydrocarbon reserves are
hosted in porous karst systems.
2 Early studies
3.1 Dissolution mechanism
6 Interstratal karst
9 Notable karst areas
10 List of terms for karst-related features
11 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
The English word karst was borrowed from German
Karst in the late 19th
century. The German word came into use before the 19th century.
According to the prevalent interpretation, the term is derived from
the German name for the
Karst region (Italian: Carso), a limestone
plateau above the city of
Trieste in the northern Adriatic (now
located on the border between
Slovenia and Italy, in the 19th century
it was part of the Austrian Littoral). Scholars disagree, however,
on whether the German word (which shows no metathesis) was borrowed
The Slovene common noun kras was first attested in the 18th century,
and the adjective form kraški in the 16th century. As a proper
noun, the Slovene form Grast was first attested in 1177, referring
Karst Plateau—a region in
Slovenia partially extending into
Italy, where the first research on karst topography was carried out.
The Slovene words arose through metathesis from the reconstructed form
*korsъ, borrowed from Dalmatian Romance carsus. Ultimately,
the word is of Mediterranean origin, believed to derive from some
Romanized Illyrian base. It has been suggested that the word may
derive from the Proto-Indo-European root karra- "rock". The
name may also be connected to the oronym Kar(u)sádios oros cited by
Ptolemy, and perhaps also to Latin Carusardius.
Karstic limestones as statuary in
Shenyang Imperial Palace, Shenyang,
Johann Weikhard von Valvasor, a pioneer of the study of karst in
Slovenia and a fellow of the
Royal Society for Improving Natural
Knowledge, London, introduced the word karst to European scholars in
1689, describing the phenomenon of underground flows of rivers in his
account of Lake Cerknica.
Jovan Cvijić greatly advanced the knowledge of karst regions, so much
that he became known as the "father of karst geomorphology". Primarily
working with the karstic regions of the Balkans, Cvijić's 1893
publication Das Karstphänomen describes landforms such as karren,
dolines and poljes. In a 1918 publication Cvijić proposed a
cyclical model for karstic landscape development. Karst
hydrology emerged as a discipline in the late 1950s and early 1960s in
France. Previously, the activities of cave explorers, called
speleologists, had been dismissed as more of a sport than a science,
meaning that underground karstic caves and their associated
watercourses were, from a scientific perspective, understudied.
Karst lake (Doberdò del Lago, Italy) fed by an underground water
source into a depression with no surface inlet or outlet
Doline in the causse de Sauveterre, Lozère, France
The development of karst occurs whenever acidic water starts to break
down the surface of bedrock near its cracks, or bedding planes. As the
bedrock (typically limestone or dolostone) continues to degrade, its
cracks tend to get bigger. As time goes on, these fractures will
become wider, and eventually a drainage system of some sort may start
to form underneath. If this underground drainage system does form, it
will speed up the development of karst formations there because more
water will be able to flow through the region, giving it more erosive
The carbonic acid that causes karstic features is formed as rain
passes through the atmosphere picking up carbon dioxide (CO2), which
dissolves in the water. Once the rain reaches the ground, it may pass
through soil that can provide much more CO2 to form a weak carbonic
acid solution, which dissolves calcium carbonate. The primary reaction
sequence in limestone dissolution is the following:
Lijiang River, Guilin, China
In particular and very rare conditions such as encountered in the past
New Mexico (and more recently in the Frasassi
Caves in Italy), other mechanisms may also play a role. The oxidation
of sulfides leading to the formation of sulfuric acid can also be one
of the corrosion factors in karst formation. As oxygen (O2)-rich
surface waters seep into deep anoxic karst systems, they bring oxygen,
which reacts with sulfide present in the system (pyrite or hydrogen
sulfide) to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4).
Sulfuric acid then reacts with
calcium carbonate, causing increased erosion within the limestone
formation. This chain of reactions is:
(sulfuric acid dissociation)
(calcium carbonate dissolution)
(global reaction leading to calcium sulfate)
CaSO4 · 2 H2O
(hydration and gypsum formation)
This reaction chain forms gypsum.
Limestone pavement in Dent de Crolles, France
The karstification of a landscape may result in a variety of large- or
small-scale features both on the surface and beneath. On exposed
surfaces, small features may include solution flutes (or
rillenkarren), runnels, limestone pavement (clints and grikes),
collectively called karren or lapiez. Medium-sized surface features
may include sinkholes or cenotes (closed basins), vertical shafts,
foibe (inverted funnel shaped sinkholes), disappearing streams, and
reappearing springs. Large-scale features may include limestone
pavements, poljes, and karst valleys. Mature karst landscapes, where
more bedrock has been removed than remains, may result in karst
towers, or haystack/eggbox landscapes. Beneath the surface, complex
underground drainage systems (such as karst aquifers) and extensive
caves and cavern systems may form.
Erosion along limestone shores, notably in the tropics, produces karst
topography that includes a sharp makatea surface above the normal
reach of the sea, and undercuts that are mostly the result of
biological activity or bioerosion at or a little above mean sea level.
Some of the most dramatic of these formations can be seen in
Phangnga Bay and at
Halong Bay in Vietnam.
Calcium carbonate dissolved into water may precipitate out where the
water discharges some of its dissolved carbon dioxide. Rivers which
emerge from springs may produce tufa terraces, consisting of layers of
calcite deposited over extended periods of time. In caves, a variety
of features collectively called speleothems are formed by deposition
of calcium carbonate and other dissolved minerals.
A karst spring in the
Jura mountains near
Ouhans in eastern
the source of the river Loue
Farming in karst areas must take into account the lack of surface
water. The soils may be fertile enough, and rainfall may be adequate,
but rainwater quickly moves through the crevices into the ground,
sometimes leaving the surface soil parched between rains.
A karst fenster occurs when an underground stream emerges onto the
surface between layers of rock, cascades some distance, and then
disappears back down, often into a sinkhole. Rivers in karst areas may
disappear underground a number of times and spring up again in
different places, usually under a different name (like Ljubljanica,
the river of seven names). An example of this is the Popo Agie River
in Fremont County, Wyoming. At a site simply named "The Sinks" in
Sinks Canyon State Park, the river flows into a cave in a formation
known as the Madison
Limestone and then rises again 800 m
(1⁄2 mi) down the canyon in a placid pool. A turlough is a
unique type of seasonal lake found in Irish karst areas which are
formed through the annual welling-up of water from the underground
Water supplies from wells in karst topography may be unsafe, as the
water may have run unimpeded from a sinkhole in a cattle pasture,
through a cave and to the well, bypassing the normal filtering that
occurs in a porous aquifer.
Karst formations are cavernous and
therefore have high rates of permeability, resulting in reduced
opportunity for contaminants to be filtered.
Groundwater in karst
areas is just as easily polluted as surface streams. Sinkholes have
often been used as farmstead or community trash dumps. Overloaded or
malfunctioning septic tanks in karst landscapes may dump raw sewage
directly into underground channels.
The karst topography also poses difficulties for human inhabitants.
Sinkholes can develop gradually as surface openings enlarge, but
progressive erosion is frequently unseen until the roof of an
underground cavern suddenly collapses. Such events have swallowed
homes, cattle, cars, and farm machinery. In the United States, sudden
collapse of such a cavern-sinkhole swallowed part of the collection of
National Corvette Museum
National Corvette Museum in
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2014.
Interstratal karst is a karstic landscape which is developed beneath a
cover of insoluble rocks. Typically this will involve a cover of
sandstone overlying limestone strata undergoing solution. In the
United Kingdom extensive doline fields developed at Mynydd Llangynidr
across a plateau of Twrch
Sandstone overlying concealed Carboniferous
Kegelkarst is a type of tropical karst terrain with numerous cone-like
hills, formed by cockpits, mogotes, and poljes and without strong
fluvial erosion processes. This terrain is found in Cuba, Jamaica,
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, southern China,
Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
Pseudokarsts are similar in form or appearance to karst features but
are created by different mechanisms. Examples include lava caves and
granite tors—for example, Labertouche
Cave in Victoria,
Australia—and paleocollapse features.
Mud Caves are an example of
Notable karst areas
Main article: List of notable karst areas
The world's largest limestone karst is Australia's Nullarbor Plain.
Slovenia has the world's highest risk of sinkholes, while the western
Highland Rim in the eastern United States is at the second-highest
risk of karst sinkholes.
Mexico hosts important karstic regions in the
Yucatán peninsula and
Karst in the provinces of Guizhou, Guangxi, and Yunnan
provinces is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
List of terms for karst-related features
See also: Speleothem
Many karst-related terms derive from South Slavic languages, entering
scientific vocabulary through early research in the Western Balkan
Dinaric Alpine karst.
Abîme, a vertical shaft in karst that may be very deep and usually
opens into a network of subterranean passages
Cenote, a deep sinkhole, characteristic of Mexico, resulting from
collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath
Foibe, an inverted funnel-shaped sinkhole
Scowle, porous irregular karstic landscape in a region of England
Turlough (turlach), a type of disappearing lake characteristic of
Uvala, a collection of multiple smaller individual sinkholes that
coalesce into a compound sinkhole. Word derives from South Slavic
Karren, bands of bare limestone forming a surface
Limestone pavement, a landform consisting of a flat, incised surface
of exposed limestone that resembles an artificial pavement
Polje (karst polje, karst field), a large flat specifically karstic
plain. The name "polje" derives from South Slavic languages.
Doline, also sink or sinkhole, is a closed depression draining
underground in karst areas. The name "doline" comes from dolina,
meaning "valley", and derives from South Slavic languages.
Karst spring, a spring emerging from karst, originating a flow of
water on the surface
Ponor, also sink or sinkhole, where surface flow enters an underground
system. Derived from Slovenian
Sinking river, or ponornica in South Slavic languages
Karst fenster ("karst window"), a feature where a spring emerges
briefly, with the water discharge then abruptly disappearing into a
List of landforms
^ What is Karst, University of Texas at Austin
^ Geomorphological Landscapes of the World.
^ a b c Ford, Derek (2007). "
Jovan Cvijić and the founding of karst
geomorphology". Environmental Geology. 51: 675–684.
^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. 2002. Vol. 1, A–M. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, p. 1481.
^ Seebold, Elmar. 1999. Kluge Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen
Sprache, 23rd edition. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, p. 429.
^ Online Etymology Dictionary
^ Pfeiffer, Dieter. 1961. "Zur Definition von Begriffen der
Karst-Hydrologie." Zeitschrift der Deutschen Geologischen Gesellschaft
113: 51–60, p. 52
^ Pörtner, Rudolf. 1986. Bevor die Römer kamen: Städte und Stätten
deutscher Urgeschichte. Rasatt: Pabel-Moewig Verlag, p. 88.
^ a b c d Snoj, Marko. 2003. Slovenski etimološki slovar. 2nd
edition. Ljubljana: Modrijan, p. 318.
^ a b c d e Bezlaj,
France (ed.). 1982. Etimološki slovar slovenskega
jezika, vol. 2, K–O. Ljubljana: SAZU, p. 82.
^ Gams, I., Kras v Sloveniji — v prostoru in casu (
Slovenia in space and time), 2003, ISBN 961-6500-46-5.
^ Paul Larsen, Scientific accounts of a vanishing lake: Janez
Lake Cerknica and the New Philosophy, 2003.
^ Cvijić, Jovan (1918). "Hydrographie souterraine et évolution
morphologique du Karst". Recueil des travaux de l'institut de
géographie alpine (in French). 6 (4): 375–426. Retrieved June 5,
^ Gilli, Éric; Mangan, Christian; Mudry, Jacques (2012).
Hydrogeology: Objectives, Methods, Applications. Translated by Fandel,
Choél. CRC Press. p. 7.
^ "What is
Karst (and why is it important)?".
^ Galdenzi, S.; Cocchioni, M.; Morichetti, L.; Amici, V.; Scuri, S.
(2008). "Sulfidic ground water chemistry in the Frasassi Cave, Italy"
(PDF). Journal of
Karst Studies. 70 (2): 94–107.
^ Mood somber, repairs uncertain as Corvette museum opens. CNN.com
^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on
2015-11-20. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
^ Whittow, John (1984). Dictionary of Physical Geography. London:
Penguin, 1984, p 292. ISBN 0-14-051094-X.
^ Austin Peay State University : Harned Bowl work not to blame
for new sinkhole, say experts
^ What is
Karst topography and why should you care? - Clarksville, TN
^ Mora, L., Bonifaz, R., López-Martínez, R. (2016). "Unidades
geomorfológicas de la cuenca del Río Grande de Comitán, Lagos de
Montebello, Chiapas-México" (PDF). Boletín de la Sociedad Geológica
Mexicana (in Spanish). 68 (3): 377–394. CS1 maint: Multiple
names: authors list (link)
Ford, D.C., Williams, P.,
Karst Hydrogeology and Geomorphology, John
Wiley and Sons Ltd., 2007, ISBN 978-0-470-84996-5
Karst Geomorphology, 2nd ed., Blackwell, 1985,
Cave Geology, 2nd Printing,
Cave Books, 2009,
Karst Landforms, Macmillan, 1973,
van Beynen, P. (Ed.),
Karst management, Springer, 2011,
Vermeulen, J.J., Whitten, T., "Biodiversity and Cultural Property in
the Management of
Limestone Resources in East Asia: Lessons from East
Asia", The World Bank, 1999, ISBN 978-0-821345-08-5
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Speleogenesis Network, a communication platform for physical
speleology and karst science research
Karst Aquifers – a large glossary of
Acta Carsologica – research papers and reviews in all the fields
related to karst
CDK Citizens of the
Karst – Citizens of the Karst, a non profit NGO
dedicated to the protection of the Puerto Rican
Karst (English site
The Virtual Cave's page on karst landforms
Portal - an open-access digital library linking
scientists, managers, and explorers
Cave topics and lists by country
Glossary of caving and speleology
Caves by country
Types and formation
Lists of caves
World Heritage Sites:
Cave Art of Northern Spain
Cave Art of Iberian Mediterranean Basin
Cave Art of the Iberian Southern Tip
New South Wales
Papua New Guinea
Nok and Mamproug