Karst: the Latest Casualty of Clear-Cut Logging

ANCONA, ITALY - AUGUST 17: A general view of the Frasassi Caves on August 17, 2018 in the province of Ancona, Marche in the municipality of Genga, Italy. The remarkable karst cave system are among the most famous show caves in Italy, discovered by a group of Ancona speleologists in 1971 are situated 7 kilometres (4 miles) south of Genga. Rich in water, the cave system is particularly well endowed with stalactites and stalagmites. (Photo by Simona Granati - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

As Bruce Grierson reports at Hakai Magazine in this fascinating piece, clear-cut logging has much deeper repercussions than simply denuding the land of trees — it also affects a critical underground ecosystem of dissolved rock called karst and the organisms that depend on it.

The server returns with a glass of ice-free water. Immediately, the reading climbs past 40. The higher number is a geological tell. It’s proof that the water ran underground through karst, an underground ecosystem of dissolved rock.

“That’s more like it,” Griffiths says.

Something naturally perfect happens to water when it flows through karst. It trickles and tumbles, picking up oxygen, picking up minerals, losing its acidity. The result is life-giving, luring and nurturing organisms from the tiniest microbes to humans to bears.

To be clear, karst isn’t a kind of rock. It’s a topography, one shaped by water that seeps and squeezes through limestone or gypsum or marble or dolomite, creating cavities from the size of the ones in your teeth to caverns the size of ballrooms, filigreed with delicate speleothems, dripping down and growing up and sometimes meeting in the middle. Limestone bedrock—the kind found here—was once alive and in the tropics before plate tectonics ferried it to Vancouver Island 100 million years ago. Limestone, composed of skeletal fragments of shallow-water marine organisms, such as corals and mollusks, is found in your toothpaste, your newspaper, your store-bought bread, and the cement beneath your feet—but the true worth of this karst bedrock includes more than its commercial value. A single subterranean water droplet is an ecosystem of its own. Two drops less than a meter apart have been found to harbor entirely different biological communities. For something that’s mostly nothing, karst contains an awful lot.

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