Karst hydrogeology

Karst was a subject of interest of man since the earliest days and is also his habitat for 12-15% of the world land. In earlier civilizations, many cities grew and developed near karst springs, but the first research of karst only begun at the end of the 19th century. As the initiator of these initial research, the name of Jovan Cvijic, the founder of the modern karst science in Serbia and worldwide, stands out. His PhD thesis “Das Karstphaenomen”, defended in Wienna in 1893, was to become the first monography about karst of its kind, widely accepted and cited in the world. Thanks to Cvijic, terms such as polje, uvala, jama, ponor, etc, entered the world’s karst terminology as standard for the given phenomena.

  • Photo on the left: Petnica cave and karstic spring – karst in Inner Dinarides of Western Serbia (photo by Z. Stevanović, 2013)
  • Photo in the middle:  Prerast near Majdanpek – karst in Carpatho-Balkanides of Eastern Serbia (photo by Z. Stevanović, 2013)
  • Photo on the right: Krupajsko vrelo spring – karst in Caarpatho-Balkanides of Eastern Serbia (photo by Lj. Vasić, 2010)

Karst represents a landscape consisting of soluble rocks with characteristic relief, whose form is caused by mechanical and chemical influence of water. According to the type of soluble rocks, karst can be divided in carbonate karst (limestones and dolomites) and evaporites karst (gypsum, anhydrite, halite), carbonate karst being dominant (Milanovic P., 1979). Karst area is characterized by surface karst forms (karrens, sinkholes, uvala, poljes) and also underground karst forms (karst channels, shafts and caves). Karst channels enable circulation of a huge quantity of water, while a special attention is given to karst forms with hydrogeological function (ponors, springs, estavelles, vrulja). Exploitation of karst groundwater could solve problems of long-term water supply of population. It is estimated that more than 20% of world population uses karst aquifer waters for water supply.

Furthermore, depending on the characteristics of karst groundwaters, they might be used for bottling, heating, etc. A distinct feature of karst groundwater is certainly its natural quality, since the water accumulated in karst channels has the best quality among the all other types of aquifers. On the other hand, karst aquifer water is the most vulnerable groundwater, when it comes to a chance of pollution of water, especially among the open karst aquifers. The aforementioned adds up to the complexity of hydrogeological research in karst, which might be most precisely described by an often used phrase:”Expect the unexpected!”.

      • Photo Sopot spring Montenegro (photo by S. Milanović, 2011)