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Mains Practice Questions

  • Q. What is karst topography? Describe its characteristics and significance. (250 words)

    24 Apr, 2023 GS Paper 1 Geography


    • Start your answer with a brief introduction about the karst topography.
    • Discuss the characteristics and significance separately.
    • Conclude accordingly.


    • Karst topography is a type of landscape that is formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. Conditions that promote karst development are well-jointed, dense limestone near the surface; moderate to heavy rainfall; and good groundwater circulation.
    • This unique topography is characterized by sinkholes, disappearing streams, caves, and underground drainage systems.
    • Karst topography is found in many regions around the world and has significant ecological, geological, and human importance.


    Characteristics of Karst topography

    Erosional landforms that characterize karst topography:

    • Sinkholes:
      • Sinkholes are circular depressions in the ground that are formed when the overlying soil and rock collapse into underground cavities.
    • Caves:
      • Caves are underground chambers and passages that are formed by the dissolution of rock. These can range from small cavities to large, complex systems that span many miles.
      • Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, USA:
        • This park is home to the world's longest known cave system, with over 650 km of explored passageways.
    • Lapies:
      • It is formed due to differential solution activity along parallel to sub-parallel joints.
      • They are also called grooved, fluted and ridge-like features in an open limestone field.

    Depositional landforms that characterize karst topography:

    • Stalactite:
      • A portion of the roof hangs on the roof and on evaporation of water, a small deposit of limestone is left behind contributing to the formation of a stalactite, growing downwards from the roof.
    • Stalagmite:
      • The remaining portion of the drop falls to the floor. This also evaporates, leaving behind a small deposit of limestone aiding the formation of a stalagmite, thicker and flatter, rising upwards from the floor.
    • Column:
      • Sometimes, stalactite and stalagmite join together to form a complete pillar known as the column.
      • Ha Long Bay, Vietnam:
        • This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its tower-like limestone formations, which are formed by Karst Topography.

    Other Characteristics:

    • Disappearing Streams:
      • Disappearing streams are streams that flow into the ground and disappear into underground drainage systems.
    • Underground Lake:
      • Most naturally occurring underground lakes are found in areas of Karst topography, where limestone or other soluble rock has been weathered away, leaving a cave where water can flow and accumulate.

    Significance of Karst Topography:

    • Geological Significance:
      • The dissolution of soluble rocks results in the formation of complex underground drainage systems, which can lead to the creation of vast cave systems.
      • These caves can contain important geological formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones, which provide insights into the Earth's geological history.
    • Human Significance:
      • Many karst regions around the world are used for agriculture and forestry, and they provide important sources of raw materials, such as limestone for construction.
      • However, human activities can also have negative impacts on karst ecosystems, such as groundwater contamination and soil erosion.
    • Ecological Significance:
      • It provides habitats for a diverse range of plant and animal species, many of which are unique to karst environments.
      • The porous nature of the rock formations allows water to seep through and form underground aquifers, which provide important sources of freshwater for drinking, irrigation, and industry.


    • Karsts are found in widely scattered sections of the world, including the caucus of France; the Kwangsi area of China; the Yucatan Peninsula in the United States. Human activities have negative impacts on karst ecosystems, and it is important to protect and preserve these fragile landscapes.

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