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Western Kentucky University

Research Site

Research Site

The Study Site:  The Mammoth Cave/ Upper Green River Watershed The Green River watershed in the Commonwealth of Kentucky extends over 71,000 km2 (Figure 1).  It is divided into two hydrologic units – The Upper Green River Basin, which is the part of the watershed upstream from the confluence of the Barren River and the Green River and the downstream portion or the Lower Green River basin.  The Upper Green River basin encompasses most of MCNP and forms the northern boundary of the park, with the Green River actually flowing through the park.  Mammoth Cave has over 500 cave kilometers mapped cave passages and is the most extensive cave system known in the world.  In 1981, the United Nations designated MCNP as a World Heritage Site. The Lower Green River basin crosses the Western Coalfield region.   The Upper Green River supports a great biodiversity of fish, macroinvertebrates and freshwater mussels, many of which exist only in this part of the watershed.  In addition, there are rare and endangered cave-dwelling invertebrate species have that never been fully identified. WKU has purchased a 300-hectare site near Mammoth Cave and will be establishing a field station and nature conservancy area.

WKU Watershed Map

Figure 1:  Mammoth Cave and Green River Watershed Source:  Kentucky Division of Water.  March 2001.   Green and Tradewater Basins Status Report.   

The headwaters of the Green River are characterized by bedrock of limestones, sandstones and shales.  The limestone areas have well-developed karst topography and are characterized by vast sinkhole plains which take in virtually all surface drainage and channel the water through caves and other underground passages.  The sinkhole plain in central Kentucky has approximately 5.4 sinkholes per km2 over a 153 km2 area. In karst aquifer systems, groundwater typically flows rapidly through caves and fractures of the rocks.   Karst terrain is particularly vulnerable to contamination by human activities.   Karst springs supply drinking water to several municipalities in the sinkhole plain.  Thus, knowledge of karst terrain and the movement of water in underground drainage systems are vitally important for maintaining good quality and safe drinking water.   Understanding caves and karst hydrology is critically important because ten percent of the Earth’s surface is occupied by karst landscape and as much as a quarter of the world’s population depends upon water supplied from karst areas.

 

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 Last Modified 9/25/14