Karst landscapes - landscapes created by water in a carbonate rock setting, such as limestone or gypsum - include features such as sinkholes, springs and caves.
The 2011 Karst Hydrogeology and Ecosystems Conference began this morning with an opening ceremony at WKU’s Snell Hall with a brief speech from Gordon Baylis, vice president for research at WKU. The conference will continue until Friday, bringing together 80 participants from 16 countries.
Baylis, who has experience with karst from caving in the past, said studying karst helps make WKU locally relevant.
But WKU’s mission of international reach comes into play with conferences, such as the karst gathering, which link scientists from around the world on similar topics.
“It really exemplifies what WKU is up to,” he said.
Pat Reed, superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park, also spoke briefly during the opening ceremony. Reed said WKU’s study of karst has contributed to Mammoth Cave becoming one of the best understood caves worldwide.
Additionally, the relationship with WKU has allowed students to intern and study at the cave, Reed said.
The conference is hosted by the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute at WKU, an organization that aims to better understand interactions between the atmosphere, landscape, water and humans.
Chris Groves, director of the Hoffman Institute and professor of geography, said Bowling Green is in a region that many people who study karst want to visit.
“Many of them are here to see this landscape where we live in southcentral Kentucky that is world famous,” Groves said.
About one-fourth of the Earth’s population gets its drinking water from karst ecosystems, Groves said. Because of this, conservation and sustainability are important in karst landscapes and will be heavily discussed at the conference.
Groves said he hopes the conference will facilitate communication that will help promote the spread of ideas.
“Ultimately, the communication is just a means to really do things - the bottom line is the outcome in some village in China which is under stress from lack of water,” Groves said, giving an example of possible solutions that could come from the conference.
“You can get a whole lot more done in an hour if you’re face to face than you can with a big stack of letters,” Groves said.
Jason Polk, associate director of the Hoffman Institute and assistant professor of geosciences at WKU, said the conference gives participants a chance to communicate and exchange ideas with one another.
This is rare because the attendees come from 16 countries worldwide, including Hungary, China, Brazil and Indonesia, Polk said.
“It’s a rare opportunity for people who would rarely be in the same room together,” he said.
The conference will include a series of research presentations from participants on topics including engineering in karst terrains and cultural and educational aspects of karst.
Three international organizations will also have their annual 2011 business meetings at the conference, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s International Geoscience Program and the International Union of Geological Sciences.
Polk said this meeting is unique because it is the first meeting in a five-year project for capacity building in the Middle East and Africa regarding goals of the IGCP. This program is also supported by the Swedish International Development Agency.
An optional four-day field trip to Dale Hollow Lake Resort State Park preceded the conference, Polk said. The 20 participants who attended saw Cumberland Caverns in Tennessee and a presentation by the Army Corps of Engineers at Wolf Creek Dam.
Main sources of funding for the conference include the WKU Office of Research, which provided $3,500; the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, which also provided $3,500; and the UNESCO/IGCP/IUGS/SIDA, which provided $7,000.