Greetings Fellow GSA Member and Karst Aficionado!

I personally want to thank you very much for signing our petition a year ago! Thanks to the efforts of a large number of people, I am very pleased to announce that on Wednesday, October 22 at the annual meeting, GSA Council approved our application and so the GSA Karst Division has been officially created.

Officers for our inaugural year are as follows.

  • Chair and JTPC representative: Cory BlackEagle, Earth and Environmental Science, University of Kentucky
  • 1st Vice Chair: Bonnie Blackwell, Chemistry Department, Williams College
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Jason Polk, Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, Western Kentucky University
  • Secretary: Penny Boston, Earth and Environmental Science, New Mexico Tech
  • Treasurer: Ben Tobin, National Park Service
  • Webmaster: Pat Kambesis, Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, Western Kentucky University

Why a Karst Division? Our justification statement, for your interest, to give you an idea of our emphases and missions.

Karst is a terrain comprised of distinctive landforms and hydrology which relies on the host rock being highly soluble in the presence of naturally-occurring acids. Karst terrain is an open system that contains geological, hydrological, biological, geochemical, and meteorological components that interact with and upon one another both at the surface of the Earth and in the subsurface. Connections between all components can be dynamic and operate on very short to very long time scales. Such terrains can be active and contemporary or inactive and/or completely decoupled from current conditions.

According to the American Geosciences Institute (Veni, et al., 2001), karst terrain underlies approximately 25% of the global land surface. Ford and Williams (1989) estimated “that 25% of the global population is supplied largely or entirely by karst waters (p. 6).” It is clear that karst terrain serves as a fragile foundation for urban and rural populations.

Karst terrains have been important to distinguished GSA members since the 1890s. The GSA Bulletin has long-published landmark karst research, such as Origin of Limestone Caverns in 1930 by William Morse Davis, and Vadose and Phreatic Features of Limestone Caverns by J Harlen Bretz in 1942.

The study of karst terrains necessarily involves a wide variety of subjects and specialties, spanning almost every division in GSA. These include geobiology, geomicrobiology, soils, environmental geology, engineering, geology, geochemistry, geophysics, structural geology, geomorphology, archeology, and even planetary studies.

The presence and characteristics of karst impacts a number of key scientific and infrastructure topics. Most karst studies require a multi- and inter-disciplinary approach.

Because sediments and speleothems (mineral deposits) in caves are, in many respects, isolated from surficial processes on both short and long time scales, they provide valuable resources to study the Earth’s conditions recorded in them. Careful study provides information on fluctuations in regional temperature, atmospheric gases, rainfall, glaciation, sea-level change, flora, and fauna.

Karst terrain, like many other areas, is valuable for the economic resources it provides. The beer brewing industry as well as the bourbon whiskey industry relies heavily on the water from karst areas. The rock that hosts karst such as limestone, dolomite, marble, gypsum, travertine, and rock salt, are quarried throughout the world. Paleokarst areas (areas containing karst that has been decoupled from the surface), contain many of the world’s largest economic reserves of lead, zinc, aluminum, oil, and natural gas.

Cave fauna, adapted to low energy and low- to no-light conditions, exist in highly specialized, unique, and extremely fragile ecosystems. Many cave species can exist in perhaps a single cave or a single region, and many are listed as rare or endangered nationally and worldwide. Biologists often study cave species to gain insight into ecosystem development and evolution. Further, many cave microbes are extremophiles, and their study assists in understanding crucial geomicrobiological processes and the interplanetary search for life. Bats, one of the most well-known species to depend on caves, eat prodigious amounts of insects on a daily basis. Boyles et al. (2011) estimate the value of bats to the agricultural industry in continental U.S. alone to be roughly $22.9 billion/year.

Cave environments preserve and protect archeological material that otherwise would have been destroyed by surface processes. As a result, many of the most important archeological sites in the world are found in caves.

Due to the cavernous nature of many karst areas, infrastructure can be severely impacted by ground subsidence and catastrophic collapse. Fortunately, deaths are rare when sinkholes form, but they can be extremely costly in terms of property damage. According to Pearson (2013), “insurance claims submitted in Florida alone between 2006 and 2010 totaled $1.4 billion.” Flooding is also a serious problem in karst terrain, and can also be extremely damaging and costly. Consequently, the ability to document the presence of karst terrain and properly design structures accordingly is crucial.

Water is the most commonly utilized resource in karst areas, which contain some of the largest volumes wells and springs in the world. Very large volumes of water are stored as groundwater in karst terrain; however, utilizing water from karst terrain is not without severe risk. Movement of water from the Earth’s surface into a karst aquifer is rapid and without any filtration. Whatever is on the ground will flow unmitigated into karst aquifers, making them highly susceptible to pollution.

It is critical to note that previously no single division within GSA encompassed the interdisciplinary and multifaceted subject of karst. This widespread, fragile, and troublesome landscape absolutely requires a multidisciplinary forum where all aspects of karst studies can converge and share research and results. There is no single organization dedicated to the scientific study of karst in the United States. Various organizations, such as the National Speleological Society, include karst science and publish a quarterly journal for such work, but its main public persona is devoted to the exploration and conservation of caves. GSA, with its multidisciplinary geosciences scope and large, international membership, is uniquely positioned to not only fill this professional scientific gap, but to also bring a prominence to karst science as well as to provide a scientific focal point for karst researchers. This step by GSA Council ensures that GSA will continue to fulfill its vision statement: "To be the premier geological society supporting the global community in scientific discovery, communication, and application of geoscience knowledge."

Stay tuned for further developments as well as information on how to join us! Again, thank you for your support!!!

Be Well! 

Cory Blackeagle Geologist, Ph.D Candidate Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences University of Kentucky