The scientific and socio-economic importance of karst and caves and their vulnerability

The karst landscape takes its name from a region comprised between northeast Italy and Slovenia, dominated by outcrops of carbonate rocks. Karst refers to an ensemble of morphological and hydrological features and the dominant process responsible for them: dissolution of soluble rocks (mostly carbonates and gypsum, but also halite and quartzite) (Gutierrez et al., 2014). In karst landscapes surface and subsurface rock dissolution largely overrules mechanical erosion, leading to a distinctive morphology and hydrology. Over 20% of the earth crust is characterized by epigean and/or hypogean karst phenomena (Ford and Williams, 2007).

Finally karst processes, along underground pathways, may give rise to the formation of three-dimensional systems of conduits, sometimes forming huge, long and extremely complex caves (White, 2002).

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