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Evaluating the Impacts of Climate Extremes on Karst Hydrology and Species Vulnerability

Karst and Climate Change: Understanding Linkages Between Climate, Water Resources, and Ecosystems


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Karst aquifers—formed when the movement of water dissolves bedrock—are critical groundwater resources in North America. Water moving through these aquifers carves out magnificent caves, sinkholes, and other formations. These formations are home to high concentrations of rare and endangered species, but the hydrological conditions that support these species can change rapidly. Managing these ecosystems into the future requires a better understanding of how climate, hydrology, and karst ecosystems interact. The objective of this project was to determine how species and ecosystems associated with karst might respond to future temperature and precipitation extremes and accompanying changes in groundwater levels and springflow. The research [...]

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Principal Investigator :
Barbara J Mahler
Funding Agency :
South Central CSC
CMS Group :
Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) Program

Attached Files

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“Ozark Karst Spring - Credit: Scott House, NPS”
thumbnail 823.44 KB image/jpeg
“Can Creek - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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“Cueva Yuyu - Credit: Alan Cressler”
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Researchers assessed the links between climate, groundwater storage, spring flow, and ecosystem response in two contrasting major U.S. karst systems: the Edwards and Madison aquifers. Karst aquifers are uniquely suited for investigating effects of climate variability at timescales of human interest because they are highly dynamic; further, many provide habitat for rare and endangered species. The principal objective of this project was to determine how interrelations between karst hydrology and ecosystems will be affected by climate change. Current relations between recharge (impulse) and storage and spring flow (response) are quantified through signal-processing models that use existing time series of precipitation, stream flow, water level, and spring flow. Future changes in storage and spring flow are forecast by linking the signal-processing models with a downscaled climate change model. Current and future ecosystem health is assessed by assembling and analyzing spatial and temporal data in the two focal karst ecosystems and assessing their vulnerability related to projected climate change on the basis of the Climate-Change Vulnerability Index.

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