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On the land where karst originatedPosted Wednesday, July 27, 2011, at 3:26 PM
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When rainwater dissolves the karst rocks beneath our feet, aquifers are created providing large water supplies -- 40 percent of drinking water in the United States. Twenty-percent of the land area in the United States is karst.
What is the origin of the name karst? The best explanation I can find is an article entitled "Origin of the term 'karst,' and the transformation of the Classical Karst (kras)" by I. Gams, a geologist at the University of Lobljana, Slovenia, published in a 1993 issue of Envirnomental Geology (21:110-114).
The name karst evolved as a 19th-century geological term, adopted from ancient names for a coastal region extending from southwest Slovenia and northeastern Italy, now called the Karst Plateau.
At various times this land was held by different peoples, hence it is carso in Italian, karsus, in Latin, kras in Slovene and karst in German. Sometime around the first millennium BC, mountains once covered with deciduous forests in this region fell victim to slash and burn practices to create more sheep pasture.
The soil washed away into the swiss cheese limestone ground, which by the Middle Ages created a barren rocky outcrop region that the locals called kras. This is the Classical Karst region.
The etymology dates to pre-Indo-European language roots -- "karra," meaning stony. I imagine that term originated from our caveman ancestors who stubbed a toe on a rock then grunted an expletive that sounded like "karst darn-it."
In the 19th century "karst" evolved to refer geographically to the Dinaric Karst -- limestone terrain running north from Greece and Albania, through parts of the former Yugoslavia, and by extension to the collective geological formations we call now call karst around the globe.
I am reporting from the Dinaric Karst in Montenegro, in mountains near the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, which sounds geographically large, but is an area no bigger than Northwest Arkansas. Karst darn it, it sure reminds me of home.
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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