Karst, Sinkholes, and Human Activity

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Fairweather Glacier karst

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  • Classroom Activities


Earth Science Week (ESW), American Geosciences Institute (AGI)


Scientists, engineers, and others create geologic maps to determine the best places for people to settle, build, farm, and use land in a variety of ways. They also use geologic maps to monitor the ways that human activity might be changing the land itself over time. As the Geologic Map of Karst in the Contiguous United States shows, much of the United States is covered by karst — a type of landscape where water dissolves rocks such as limestone, gypsum, and dolomite to form features like caves, disappearing streams, and sinkholes. About a quarter of people worldwide reside on karst or get their water from a karst aquifer. Why do karst landscapes frequently contain sinkholes, depressions in the earth’s surface caused by a collapse of earth materials below? What do sinkholes mean for people who plan to build, work, and live in such areas? In this activity, you will examine geologic maps — and other maps — to consider the relationship between karst and human activity.

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