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Abstract

The distinctive hydrology and landforms of karst create a very special environment. Although several types of karst have been identified worldwide, a common thread is the dominantly subterranean drainage. The paucity of water flowing at the surface, a consequence of rapid infiltration underground through a network of discontinuities in the soluble rock mass, results in two important but contrasting points: the considerable value of karst water resources (representing about 25% of the drinkable supply in the world) is strongly counteracted by the ease with which human activities can negatively impact this precious resource. The same narrow discontinuities, and the larger dissolution conduits and karst caves, are the main pathways through which potential pollutants may travel swiftly to regional groundwater bodies, or directly to springs. Contaminants can be introduced by means of dispersed infiltration as well as from point sources and are frequently transmitted with minimal filtering. This example, just one of the many natural and/or anthropogenic hazards that may affect karst areas, illustrates the fragility of karst environments. Their high vulnerability is further expressed by a very simple concept that is true for many other environments but probably shows its best evidence in karst: it is very easy to damage or destroy natural resources but restoration to a pristine situation is an extremely difficult and commonly impossible, task. Where some degree of remediation is possible, the economic cost is commonly very high.

Since the early 1960s there has been a great deal of progress in understanding the processes and landforms

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