The term karst denotes terrain with distinctive landforms and drainage arising from greater rock solubility in natural waters than most other rocks. Karst is best developed in carbonate rocks such as limestone, dolomite and gypsum but other rock types are also prone to karst weathering processes.
The distinctive landforms of karst terrain include, for example, caves, solution pipes, dolines (enclosed depressions) and a variety of solution weathering forms (karren). Karst terrains have a distinctive hydrology characterized by the dominance of subterranean drainage. Sinking streams and risings (springs) are characteristic of karst.
Karst landscapes comprise an important component of the Earth’s geodiversity. Karst and its dependent ecosystems are sensitive and vulnerable to an array of human impacts, and require careful management. Caves frequently contain features that are fragile (e.g. speleothems, sediments, bones) as well as biota that are very sensitive to disturbance from human activities, originating either underground or indirectly from the surface catchment.
Caves and karst are important for the following values:
- Economic resources including limestone and groundwater
- For tourism and recreation and its associated economic benefits
- As sites of cultural, spiritual and religious significance
- For specialized agriculture, industries and services
- As important repositories of information on Earth’s evolutionary and cultural history including minerals, sediments, bones, art and artifacts
- As habitat for biota including many rare and endemic species