2021 is ‘Year of Caves and Karst’

Cave and karst enthusiasts, biologists, hydrologists, geologists, and educators worldwide have selected 2021 as the International Year of Caves and Karst—karst and limestone geography being something with which people in Loudoun, especially those working on construction projects, are familiar.

About 18,000 acres along Rt. 15 north of Leesburg is karst terrain, with limestone and other rocks underground that naturally occurring, slightly acidic water can dissolve. As the rock is carried away, underground streams, caves, springs, and sinkholes are formed—as evidenced by sinkholes that opened up beneath the Exeter neighborhood off Battlefield Parkway, and the sinkhole that opened under construction of the new Pennington Garage in Leesburg that cost the project $3.5 million and five months of delay.

Karst can also make groundwater supplies especially susceptible to surface water pollution, as surface water can flow directly into the groundwater through sinkholes without the normal filtration of slowly percolating through the ground.

Karst and caves are also common across the western portions of the state—according to the Virginia Cave Board, there are more than 4,000documented caves in 29counties in the commonwealth, and they provide a habitat for rare and threatened species such as Virginia’s state bat, the Virginia big-eared bat.

The Virginia Cave Board and the Virginia Region of the National Speleological Society will host a day-long free virtual program Saturday, May 8 called “The Secrets of Caves, Critters, and Rocks,” starting at 9 a.m. featuring cave video tours, a history of Grand Caverns in Grottoes, VA, and lessons on geology, hydrology, and bats and other cave life.

For educators, some of that material will also align with Virginia Science Standards of Learning.

“After a year of darkness due to COVID-19, 2021 is the International Year of Caves and Karst, and we look forward to shedding light again on these biologically rich and sensitive landscapes through a wonderful virtual program,” said Virginia Cave Board and NSS member Meredith Hall Weberg.

More information and a schedule is available at https://vacaveweek.com/iyck/index.html.

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