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Cave, spring, and sinkhole development in the Ozarks of south-central Missouri is placed in a geologic framework through detailed geologic mapping. Geologic mapping shows that initial dissolution and inception of cave development is concentrated just beneath sandstone beds within Upper Cambrian and Lower Ordovician dolostone. Although rocks of the Ozarks have systematic and pervasive vertical joints, the development of karst conduits is controlled by bedding planes and stratigraphic variability. In the Salem Plateau of south-central Missouri, sinkholes occur in the lower part of the Ordovician Roubidoux Formation, where sinkholes are rimmed with and contain sandstone that has collapsed into voids in the underlying Ordovician Gasconade Dolomite. Cave diving by the Ozark Cave Diving Alliance into Alley Spring, a large (average flow 3.7 m3/s) spring along the Jacks Fork in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, shows that although the spring discharges from the middle part of the Gasconade, the source of water is a cave passage just beneath the Gunter Sandstone Member of the Gasconade Dolomite. Artesian conditions cause the upward movement of groundwater from cavernous dolostone beneath the sandstone aquitards to the large springs. We hypothesize that sandstone, which is largely impermeable due to silica cementation, acts as a confining unit where hydraulic pressure, combined with mixing of water of differing chemistry, increases dissolution in the underlying dolostone beds.

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