USGS EarthWord of the Week
EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word!
The EarthWord: Karst
Despite sounding like a Batman punch, karst actually refers to a type of landscape where the underlying rock formations are partially eroded by water. Usually, these areas are made up of limestone or marble.
The most famous aspect of karst landscapes is caves, which predominantly form when groundwater dissolves limestone and erodes open spaces in the rock.
Karst is the German name for a limestone region around the Italian city of Trieste.
Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:
Karst landscapes make up a large part of the United States, and because of their ability to hold water, are often home to significant sources of groundwater.
Karst landscapes are also home, as mentioned, to the vast majority of the world’s caves, which themselves are unique ecosystems with important species.
Finally, because they’re susceptible to erosion beneath the surface, karst landscapes are also at risk for sinkholes, which can range from small to large enough to swallow entire buildings.
USGS studies the groundwater aspect of karst in its Office of Groundwater, tracking groundwater quality, quantity, and movement.
On the cave side of things, USGS studies bats, aquatic insects, and other ecosystem aspects of cave ecology.
And, last but not least, USGS studies sinkhole hazards, including what causes them and what areas are susceptible.
Next EarthWord: This EarthWord sounds like some flu meds, but it’s closer to runny rivers than runny noses...
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