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Most Caves of any US State – Tennessee

Most Caves of any US State – Tennessee

Did you know that Tennessee has the most Caves of any state in the United States?  Checkout this map by Chuck Sutherland:


From Karst:

Karst is a term used to describe the distinctive surface landscapes of cave country, shaped by dissolution of soluble bedrocks such as limestone, dolomite, or gypsum. The surface character of karst results from both surface dissolution of exposed bedrock and dissolution beneath the surface as caves are formed. Voids forming beneath the surface result in slumping or collapse. Streams sink underground and may not reappear until miles away as springs or birthplaces of rivers. Karst landscapes encompass some 10-15% of the earth’s land mass and millions of people live in or among karst. This page will attempt to convey both the diversity and beauty of the world’s karst.

The Quintessential Karst

We begin with an image that absolutely screams “karst” because it is part of the actual landscape which gave rise to the name. Here, the river Reka flows through a large arch dividing two adjacent sinkholes. The river rises or resurges from a cave in the distant sink, its entrance just visible in the distance about the 4:00 direction from the church on the ridge. The river sinks again beyond. This scene is in the Škocjan Caves Regional Park in Slovenia. The region it is found has similar landforms throughout and is called Kras locally but karst in German. Now the term is used to refer to similar yet quite varied and beautiful landforms. At the top of the page is a karst ridge in central Laos near Vang Vieng. It also houses many caves.


Distribution of Karst: USA

Carbonate rocks are found in almost every state, with the exception of Delaware and Rhode Island. Not surprisingly the states with the largest amount of karst contain the most caves, with Tennessee the clear winner with over 8000 caves followed by Missouri with 4000+. In the map on the right one sees lava flows marked as “pseudokarst,” because these landforms may contain features associated with karst such as caves (lava tubes), collapses and pits. However, there are not due to solutional processes and hence the “pseudo” part of the name. In Florida the karst is young and caves are actively forming below the water table; the longest cave systems there are still completely submerged and being explored by cave divers. The U.S. National Park Service has created a nice poster map showing all the park units with caves and karst.

Look at these recent pictures from Cumberland County, TN:

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