2. Science of caves and karst: A half century of progress
Published:January 01, 2016
In the late 1950s to early 1960s, there was a paradigm shift in the study of caves and karst. Instead of a science of speleology, the focus changed to using caves and their contents to provide information of much wider geological interest. Cave and karst science has also borrowed heavily from other sciences. One technique that was borrowed was the restructuring of carbonate chemistry to define saturation index, CO2 partial pressure, and other parameters that are widely used to describe karst waters. Equilibrium chemistry was followed by chemical kinetics, which proved to be the key to understanding the development of conduit systems. Karst hydrology was advanced by recognizing the importance of the karst drainage basin in surface water–groundwater interactions and the hydrodynamics of conduit flow. Much new interpretation was made possible with data provided by greatly improved tracer techniques. Karst hydrology has moved from qualitative descriptions to computer models that take account of matrix, fracture, and conduit permeability. Sediment and contaminant transport as well as new understanding of sinkhole collapses and other land-use hazards have become part of the hydrogeologic framework of karst. All aspects of cave and karst science have been revolutionized by the development of accurate dating methods for speleothems and for clastic sediments in caves. Following from the dating techniques, one of the most important developments has been the use of speleothems as paleoclimate archives.