FAQs About Caves and Karst
At MCKC, we are passionate about caves and karst education and are pleased to have students look to us for answers. We recently had an inquiry from Alison, a student at LaSalle Springs Middle School in Wildwood, Missouri. LaSalle is a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon school and Missouri Department of Education Gold Star School. Seeking help with a class project, Alison sent us a note to ask some important questions about caves and karst. Jonathan Beard, MCKC’s Vice President answered to her questions.
Do you think the caves will still be around in many years to come?
Caves are the products of erosion, that is, slightly acidic water has dissolved the rock to form large water conduits that transport water to springs. When the water table lowers, the caves become air-filled. With less water, the rate of erosion is greatly slowed, and therefore, caves should exist for a long time to come. Eventually, like all other surface features, the rock surrounding caves will be eroded, but the good news is that for every cave that is eroded away, a new cave is being made (all of the large springs in the Ozarks are “caves in the making.”)
Why do you think it is important to preserve caves?
In many respects, caves are museums of natural history. Trained scientists can look at the features of the caves and determine the order of events that make the history of the cave. They can see how the cave was made, how the features inside were made. They can study the bones and animal tracks in caves and see what kinds of animals visited the caves in past times. They can also look for and often find evidence that prehistoric people visited the caves.
What are karst resources?
Karst is the name of a kind of landform. The word “karst” is derived from the name of an area in modern day Slovenia called Krs. This area has many springs, caves and sinkholes and partially dissolved spires of limestone. Geologists have given the name “karst” to describe other areas of the world with the same kinds of features. There are many karst features in the Ozarks, and that is why there are more than 6400 recorded caves in Missouri with about as many springs. There are more than 50,000 recorded sinks in the state. Karst resources are important to most people living in the Ozarks —most of the water we consume comes from deep wells that extract groundwater or comes from springs or spring fed streams and reservoirs.
Springs and caves are also home to many kinds of animals that depend on karst resources for their survival. These animals include bats, salamanders, many kinds of insects, blind crayfish and blind cavefish.
Why is it important to educate others about the caves?
Many people cause damage to caves by leaving trash in the caves, writing or carving graffiti into the rock or breaking the stalactites and stalagmites. This not only ruins the appearance of the caves, but it damages the features that we must study to understand caves. If people are educated to practice cave conservation, the karst features will be protected for future generations.
We must conserve cave resources. By conserving them, we retain the geological, archaeological and paleontological features that tell us what the caves and the earth were like long ago. Because many animals in cave ecosystems require caves in their natural state, people should respect the cave environment in its unspoiled state. Because caves, springs and groundwater are interrelated, what we do to sinks, we do to the groundwater we drink. In addition, what we do to the groundwater we drink, we do to caves. And, what we do to caves, we do to the groundwater we drink.
Please let us know if you have questions. Send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be glad to help. Visit one of Missouri’s beautiful commercial caves or contact a grotto near you to learn more about caves in your area.