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“It is widely agreed that education is the most effective means that a society possesses for confronting the challenges of the future. Indeed, education will shape the world of tomorrow.”
UNESCO, 1997 (download PDF)


Why Cave and Karst Education?

Over the past 200 years, significant impacts on Earth’s environment, from human activities have caused scientists to recognize a new epoch, the “Anthropocene.” Global climate and water problems continue to escalate. Humans have become interconnected with urban environments, not the natural world. This makes cave and karst systems and their resources particularly vulnerable because they are “out of sight, out of mind” to most people.

Polluted cave stream, Nestani Cave, Greece.

Caves are resources that provide natural drainage and drinking water. Caves provide habitat for unusual, rare, and endangered species, and are recreational places. Cave environments are fragile, and not resilient to disruption. They are repositories of valuable historic and scientific information. Scientists obtain information about Earth’s past climates by studying cave speleothems.

Water supports life. It influences where and how people live. Water shapes karst landscapes. Karst makes up roughly a quarter of the landscapes on Earth. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide depend on karst aquifers for drinking water, yet only cave and karst researchers, educators, managers, or explorers generally understand karst.

The Earth’s karst landscapes are spectacular. Karst environmental issues, however, can be catastrophic. Karst related problems, such as sinkhole collapse and dam failure, could individually cost tens of millions of dollars. In May 2000 in Canada, groundwater pollution in karst was the primary factor in the death of seven people (PDF) and the illness of 2,300 more. Karst aquifers require increased protection. Without an understanding of cave and karst environments, citizens, developers, and policymakers are ill equipped to make responsible decisions.

As the stresses humanity places on the Earth’s resources increase, so does the demand for public understanding of complex environmental issues. Cave and karst education is critical. Through cave and karst education, individuals will:

  • • Identify caves as a repository of important information.
  • • Identify karst, karst aquifers, and understand how karst works.
  • • Build an understanding of the connections between human actions and natural systems.

Karst and Pseudokarst Aquifers in the Continental USGlobally, the public must become active participants in the stewardship of the Earth’s shared resources. Restoring and maintaining the health of caves, karst areas, karst aquifers, and the ecosystems they sustain depends on the understanding of interconnected systems. Sustainable cave and karst management is achievable through cooperation and a commitment to education.

USGS Digital Engineering Aspects of Karst
by B.D. Tobin and D.J. Weary

Learn about the National Karst Map.

Definition: A speleothem is a secondary mineral deposit formed in a cave. See also Wikipedia