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Cave & Karst Resources

A caver lights up a gypsum chandelier in Lechuguilla Cave
A caver lights up a gypsum chandelier in Lechuguilla Cave, Carlsbad Caverns National Park. (Photo by Dr. Jean K. Krejca, Zara Environmental LLC - For Public Use)

The National Park Service manages some of the world's most amazing places. This includes over 4,700 caves with at least four of these that extend for more than 135 miles and are so complex that the casual visitor would be lost among the hundreds of passages to choose from. This also includes karst, a type of landform where sinkholes, sinking streams, and springs are considered normal features and are indicative of the relationship found between the surface and the underground.

In this NPS world of caves and karst, discovery and documentation is an ongoing fact with every year miles of cave passages being seen and documented for the first time ever and new species, some within new genera, being discovered on a routine basis. Because of the nature of caves and karst, these resources are generally hidden from view which makes them harder to understand. Recent activities in NPS caves and karst areas are bringing new discoveries to light which in turn are helping parks understand their resources better. These new discoveries are also helping change the way we think about the world around us. These discoveries and studies are even helping us to look for life on other planets such as Mars.

Storehouses of knowledge, the study of caves and karst areas encompass an array of scientific disciplines ranging from archeology, biology, paleontology, meteorology, hydrology, geology, and to almost any other field imaginable. Less we forget, caves and karst areas also provide great recreational activities and a plethora of educational and outreach opportunities. And last, but not least, cave and karst areas contain vast amounts of fresh groundwater that helps supply an increasingly thirsty population.

The discoveries, scientific studies, recreational values, educational opportunities, and fresh water supplies don't come cheap though. Cave and karst areas are fragile and easy to impact and contaminate. With knowledge comes the responsibility to take care of these areas, to manage wisely using science to provide guidance, and to make decisions that give the resources the upper-hand. Without this management perspective, these resources will suffer and the places visitors see today will not be the same places we leave for our children's, children's, children. The future of these amazing places depends on decisions we make today.

Programs In-Depth

Cave & Karst Program

A caver preparing to rappel into cave entrance

As stewards and managers of world-class resources, the national cave and karst program helps parks to identify and understand these mostly hidden resources and provides guidance and education on the conservation, protection, inventory, monitoring, and study of these oft-times very complex resources. Learn more...

Cave & Karst Parks

Visitors tour Mammoth Cave

The NPS manages over 4,700 caves found within at least 94 parks with an additional 59 parks containing karst with no known caves present. From the casual visitor to the most experienced scientist and explorer, parks offer a wide-range of cave and karst experiences that millions of visitors to the parks enjoy every year. Learn more...

White-Nose Syndrome

Little Brown bat with White-nose Syndrome

A deadly disease devastating hibernating bats, WNS has now been found in or near a number of NPS units. Since its emergence during the winter of 2006-07 in New York, the disease has continued to spread throughout the eastern U.S. and into Canada. Learn more...


Junior Cave Scientist badge

Knowledge and understanding is the most important tool we have to protect and conserve our country's natural and cultural heritage. With fragile resources such as caves and karst that generally lie hidden under the ground, providing educational opportunities for students, teachers, communities is essential to build awareness.
Eduaction resources...
Junior Cave Scientist Program...

National Cave and Karst Research Institute

National Cave and Karst Research Institute logo

The National Cave and Karst Research Institute Act of 1998 (16 U.S.C. § 4310 note) was passed by the 105th congress to further the science of speleology, centralize and standardize speleological information, foster interdisciplinary cooperation in cave and karst research programs, promote public education, promote national and international cooperation in protecting the environment for the benefit of cave and karst landforms, and promote and develop environmentally sound and sustainable resource management practices. Through this Act, the NPS was mandated to establish the Institute. The Institute is now a functional non-profit, government-supported institute headquartered in the City of Carlsbad, New Mexico. The NPS continues to play an important role in its funding, objectives, and programs. Learn more...

National Speleological Society

National Speleological Society logo

With over 10,000 members and 250 grottos (member caving clubs & groups), the National Speleological Society (NSS) does more than any other organization to study, explore, and conserve cave and karst resources; protect access to caves; encourage responsible management of caves and their unique environments; and promote responsible caving. Both individuals within the NSS and members of grottos contribute thousands of volunteer hours every year to various NPS units to help parks understand, protect, and interpret cave and karst resources. This includes the survey and exploration, restoration and conservation, research and study, and education and interpretation of cave and karst resources within parks. Learn more...

Cave Research Foundation

         Cave Research Foundation logo

The Cave Research Foundation (CRF) is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to: facilitating research, management and interpretation of caves and karst resources; forming partnerships to study, protect and preserve cave resources and karst areas; and promoting the long term conservation of caves and karst ecosystems. Members of the CRF also work with various NPS units to contribute thousands of hours each year as volunteers to accomplish similar goals including the survey and exploration, restoration and conservation, research and study, and education and interpretation of cave and karst resources with parks. Learn more...


Related Links

Key Contacts

Dale PateDale Pate
Cave & Karst Program Coordinator
Geologic Resources Division
12795 West Alameda Parkway
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
(303) 969-2635 (office)
Contact - Dale Pate

Harold (Hal) PrangerHarold (Hal) Pranger
Geologic Features and Systems Branch Chief
Geologic Resources Division
12795 West Alameda Parkway
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
(303) 969-2018 (office)
Contact - Hal Pranger

Geologic Resources Division Mailing Address
National Park Service
Geologic Resources Division
P.O. Box 25287
Denver, Colorado 80225-0287


Last Updated: October 09, 2015