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Republished from Cave and Karst Science, 31 (3), 2004, 123-134. Open link

UIS KHS Commission
Hydraulic and geological factors influencing conduit flow depth

There has much been speculation as to whether cave formation should occur at, above, or below the water table, but a satisfactory explanation has been lacking until recently. The last 50 years has seen extensive mapping of caves both above and, more recently, below the water table. It is now becoming apparent that there are systematic differences in depth of flow between different areas and that conduit flow to depths >100m below the water table is not uncommon. Such deep flow is facilitated by the lower viscosity of geothermally heated water at depth. Analysis of data from caves shows that depth of flow is primarily a function of flow path length, stratal dip and fracture anisotropy. This explains why conduits form at shallow depths in platform settings such as in Kentucky, at moderate depths (10–100m) in folded strata such as in England and in the Appalachian Mountains, and at depths of several hundred metres in exceptional settings where there are very long flow paths.