Connectivity concept in karst: the doline-cave coupling in the context of human impacts

Basic Info


Karst landscape represents approximately 8.800 km2 or 44 % of the Slovenian territory and consequently about half of the population depend on it as a source of drinking water. It is estimated that pressure on that source will rise. Despite the vulnerability of karst due to its low filtering capabilities in karst aquifers, karst landscapes experience more pressure due to the intensification of human activities. Among others, they have developed exceptional geomorphological features such as dolines and caves.

Geoscience has been devoting increased attention to understanding the complex pathways and flows of material, energy, and the multidimensional coupling between various geological systems. This understanding includes the “concept of connectivity”, which provides an overall framework better to investigate how the function of different drainage systems. Within this project, we aim to connect both of these karst formations, where our main interest is a direct flow between dolines and caves. Dolines represent our research “input points” and the caves directly beneath them as our research “output points”. In relation to the concept of connectivity between the karst surface and subsurface, hydrological, sediment, and geochemical connectivities are the most relevant.

By comparing the dynamics between the surface terrain (e.g., depressions, flat plateaux) and the subterranean space (caves) over a long period of time, we can explain the natural processes in relation to the palaeoenvironment and the extent of human influence.

Our purpose is to determine the role of sediment in the dolines for the hydrological and geochemical connectivity of dolines with the near-surface caves in the vadose zone by following specific objectives:


  • Objective 1: Asses the near-surface caves and dolines in the research area of low Dinaric Karst Plateaus (for example Kras Plateau, Matarsko podolje Plateau, Gorjanci Hills); find the appropriate dolines above caves for further analysis of human impacts.
  • Objective 2: Identify the presence, extent and characteristics of connectivity in doline-cave coupling zone for three representative near-surface caves of low karstic plateaus in the Dinaric Mountains.
  • Objective 3:  Analyse geomorphological characteristics of selected dolines.
  • Objective 4: Identify characteristics of sediments in dolines and near-surface caves and the geochemical parameters of infiltrating water (on the surface/doline and in near-surface caves) to determine human impacts from the specific doline.
  • Objective 5: Define the influence of sediment characteristics on processes and features in the epikarst.
  • Objective 6: Build and test the transferable impact risk assessment model of doline-cave coupling zone, considering near-surface caves.


Scheme: Doline - Cave Coupling