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Early flow paths can be traced along structural segments (single fractures, fracture intercepts, or zones of closely spaced fractures) through hundreds of kilometers of branchwork caves in structurally complex settings along the eastern Allegheny Plateau of West Virginia, USA. Identification of the early fracture conduits presupposes the following primary conditions: (1) prominent fracture traces are retained on bedrock perimeters; (2) fracturing associated with later cave enlargement is minimal and distinguishable from transmissive fractures; (3) conduit enlargement and modification are not so extensive or so directed as to have totally destroyed the fractures; and (4) there is minimal covering of relevant fracture traces by clastic or chemical sedimentation. Criteria used to infer structural segments include: (1) the presence of anastomoses or other dissolutional features along fractures; (2) the presence of tubes, half tubes, or segments of passage concordant to fractures; (3) the existence of anastomoses and other tubes that grow upward from initially transmissive fractures; (4) the presence of features of entrenchment that are lower than remnant tubes, half tubes, and most early parts of joint fissures; and (5) the continuity of flow along fractures, except at locations of dissolutional mining to create mined segments. If structural segments are identified and mapped with high-precision leveling surveys, a framework can be provided to decipher many details of flow-path integration and enlargement. It is then possible to reconstruct cave history using evidence provided by analysis of passage morphology, sediments, and the relationships of cave features to local and regional surface features.

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