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Critical zone karst observatory


While Indiana University was an early leader in North American karst research in the 1940s through 1970s, only sporadic and limited studies have occurred since the 1980s, primarily driven by specific development or regulatory concerns (e.g., I-69 and SR-37 expansion). The Indiana Geological and Water Survey (under the lead of Dr. Lee Florea, the Assistant Director for Research and a Licensed Professional Geologist) will undertake a sequence of five parallel investigations over two years to broaden our understanding of karst hydrogeology in the SWCI area.


1) Designing and implementing an online registry and inventory system for dye traces that will update IndianaMap and provide notifications to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and emergency management professionals in the location where such traces occur. a. This project mimics the implementation by the Kentucky Division of Water that provides a record of all dye traces conducted in the state. Information from these dye traces are incorporated into statewide maps that help state agencies create and implement development and construction plans. b. Indiana citizens benefit from this project by having a source of information for active, and justified, projects that define groundwater flow. c. Emergency professionals benefit from this project by having an actively updated source of information to distribute in advance of planned tracing activities or answer questions or concerns from citizens. 2) Soliciting existing dye trace data in state/federal agencies, universities, and consulting firms to enhance the presently existing layer in IndianaMap. a. Decades of dye-trace data are presently scattered among environmental consultants, cave enthusiasts, and state agencies. This project will create and authoritative repository and source for these data. b. This effort enhances existing layers in IndianaMap ( by collecting all dye trace data in a free public-accessible and searchable site. 3) Conducting a sequence of dye traces in Harrison/Crawford Counties in collaboration with private landowners, tourist caves, state/federal agencies, and municipalities to better outline the boundaries of groundwater basins. a. This project was specifically requested by Mr. Rand Heazlitt, manager of the Town of Corydon and a co-investor of Indiana Caverns. b. Additional dye tracing will help guide exploration and define the limits of the landscape that contributes water to Indiana Caverns. c. Targeted tracing will also help illustrate the direction and speed of groundwater flow, which can help Mr. Heazlitt leverage state funding to expand the sanitation system of the Town of Corydon in response to increased housing development. 4) Installing a set of field-based geochemical and water-level monitoring instrumentation in caves, wells, and springs of the Blueppring and Lost River karst basins of Lawrence and Orange Counties to provide insight into changes in water chemistry and discharge across the karst basins and during individual storms. a. One outcome of this project is an increased understanding of how the landscape responds to rainfall, which have caused considerable flooding and are projected to become greater in intensity with climate change. b. Data from some sites in this project will be made available online for the public and to visitors of Bluespring Cavern in real time on a website that can be live streamed in the visitor center. 5) Collecting water samples at six (6) locations in the Lost River karst basin that, when combined with the data in project 4, provide unique and valuable insight into the transport of carbon, nutrients, and sediments in an agriculturally intensive landscape. a. The data from projects 4 and 5 will be used to create a comprehensive view of the rate of nutrient and sediment loss from these karst basins. b. Such results are vitally important to better refining the role of karst landscapes in the global carbon cycle. c. Results from this study will provide one node of data that can help model water quality changes in the Mississippi River watershed and better predict the ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico caused by excess nutrients.

Contact: Tracy Branam (