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Geologic Monitoring

Caves & Karst

The Ice Chamber, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico.
"The Ice Chamber", Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico.

What are caves?

Caves are naturally occurring underground voids. They occur in many types of rocks in many ecosystems. Common types of caves include:

What is karst?

Karst is a landscape that forms through the dissolution of soluble rock.

Why does the National Park Service monitor caves and karst?

Caves are significant, non-renewable resources. They are significant in their own right and also because they house other significant resources including mineral deposits, fossils, endemic species, and cultural resources. Monitoring of the fundamental vital signs of caves is important in protecting the caves as a whole and the resources contained within them.

  • Monitoring Book
  • Resource Facts
  • Case Study

Geological Monitoring Book

Vital Signs Monitored

  1. Cave meteorology
  2. Airborne sedimentation
  3. Direct visitor impacts
  4. Permanent or seasonal ice
  5. Cave drip and pool water
  6. Microbiology
  7. Stability-breakdown, rockfall and partings
  8. Mineral growth
  9. Surface expressions and processes
  10. Regional groundwater levels and quantity
  11. Fluvial processes

Chapter 2
Geological Monitoring of Caves and Associated Landscapes (PDF - 627KB)

Caves and karst are a very important geological resource in the U.S. National Park system. Monitoring of geological resources and processes in caves is difficult to separate from two related activities. The first of these other activities is inventory. The second is recurring, long-term scientific research. It can often be difficult to distinguish these three activities. Often there may be overlap among them, and a project that starts as either an inventory or recurring research study may become a monitoring project.

For the purposes of this manual, monitoring should have the potential to influence management action. That is, it should be measuring a parameter that is likely to be affected by threats to vulnerable resources or possible managment actions, and which will show a change if management actions are altered.

NPS Cave and Karst Facts

There are 3,900 caves in 81 NPS units which contain significant cave or karst features.

There are 4,138,994 feet of developed caves in the park service.

There are 1,306,013 feet of undeveloped caves in the park service.

Examples of NPS units with significant cave resources:

Monitoring Caves and Karst in the National Park Service

Case study coming soon...

Related Links



Last Updated: January 03, 2017