Karst is defined as a landscape with topographic depressions such as sinkholes, springs, sinking streams and caves, caused by underground solution of limestone bedrock. This landscape features underground streams and aquifers, which supply the wells and springs communities use for their drinking water.
The hollow nature of karst terrain results in a very high pollution potential. Streams and surface runoff entering sinkholes or caves bypass natural filtration through the soil and provide direct conduits for contaminants in karst terrain. Groundwater can travel quite rapidly through these underground networks - up to several miles a day - and contaminants can be transmitted quickly to wells and springs in the vicinity.
Approximately 10% of the earth's surface, and 20% of the U.S., is composed of karst, with about 25% of the world's population living in these karst areas.
The word "karst" was developed in Europe, where early geologists first studied the nature of groundwater flowing through limestone hills and valleys.
Karst protection requires an understanding of the karst watershed and the will to protect the natural resources within the karst watershed.
For more information on karst landscapes see:
Living on Karst on the Cave Conservancy of the Virginias website:
Or the Project Underground activity guide available through workshops in your area.
A power point presentation on karst can be found at:
Click to view the PDF file Presentation from the Center for Subterranean Biodiversity, Karst Waters Institute.