Critical zone karst observatory

Status Start Date End Date Locations
completed Jul 1, 2018 Jun 30, 2020 Lawrence, Orange
Director: Lee Florea
Other Researchers: Tracy Branam, Sarah Burgess, Sam Frushour, Matthew Johnson, Don Tripp
Funding: Indiana University - Center for Rural Engagement
Issue: 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.
Objective: 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.
Approach: • The towns of Corydon and Mitchell will each have specific engagement opportunities through this project through community presentations and volunteer opportunities for sample collection. In Bloomington, we will organize public lectures annually as part of Limestone Month. • The caving community, through the various local chapters of the National Speleological Society, the Indiana Cave Survey, the Indiana Karst Conservancy, and the Bloomington Indiana Grotto, will be asked and encouraged to participate in dye trace and sample collection activities. • We will also reach out to the Hoosier Environmental Counsel and the Hoosier Riverwatch programs for targeted assistance with fieldwork. • Courses at IU with a field or community service component can participate in field sampling programs and benefit from the real-time data available online from monitoring sites. Additionally, Dr. Florea will teach ‘Elements of Hydrology’ in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (DEAS) at IU that will include a field component focused on the collection of water samples and their analysis from this project. • Ongoing collaborations between Dr. Florea and the Department of Journalism at Ball State University through ‘Water Quality Indiana’ ( will engage honors students at Ball State in the development and production of media deliverables associated with project implementation and community engagement. These results will be used as one node in a comparative study between water policies in the U.S. and other countries. • We will collaborate with the IU Center for Rural Engagement to help tell the story of the study through various online and print media including links to SWCIMap and the importance of water to Hoosiers. • The instrumentation and field installations associated with this project will position IU as potential research ‘node’ in the national long-term Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) network. Dr. Florea is part of a group of scientists who are prepared to submit a proposal to the National Science Foundation when the next FRP is released.
Products: • Dye trace registration webpage • GIS layers and metadata of dye traces for IndianaMap • A ‘critical-zone observatory’ network of monitoring sites and online-hosted data • Professional presentations to campus, regional, and national forums and conferences • Information circulars developed in coordination with community and agency partners. • Media articles, both online and in print • Peer reviewed articles in high-impact, ISI-ranked journals