For the more information about the geologic resources of the National Park Service, please visit https://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/.
Caves & Karst
What are caves?
Caves are naturally occurring underground voids. They occur in many types of rocks in many ecosystems. Common types of caves include:
- solutional (karst) caves
- lava tubes
- sea caves
- talus caves
- regolith caves (formed by soil piping)
- glacier caves (ice-walled caves)
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
- Cave meteorology
- Airborne sedimentation
- Direct visitor impacts
- Permanent or seasonal ice
- Cave drip and pool water
- Stability-breakdown, rockfall and partings
- Mineral growth
- Surface expressions and processes
- Regional groundwater levels and quantity
- Fluvial processes
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:
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
- Great Basin National Park and Preserve, NV
- Jewel Cave National Monument, SD
- Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
- Oregon Caves National Monument, OR
- Ozark National Scenic Riverways, MO
- Russell Cave National Monument, AL
- Sequoia National Park, CA
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument, UT
- Wind Cave National Park, SD
Monitoring Caves and Karst in the National Park Service
Case study coming soon...
- Geologic Monitoring Book, Chapter 2 - Caves and Associated Landscapes (PDF - 627KB)
- National Cave and Karst Research Institute
- NPS Cave and Karst Program
- NPS Tour of Park Geology - Cave and Karst Parks
Last Updated: January 03, 2017