Publication Date

Fall 2018

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

David Keeling (Director), Patricia Kambesis, Jason Polk, and Kevin Cary


Subsurface drainage basins are highly interconnected in karst regions, as groundwater is quickly transported through conduits created by the dissolution of carbonate bedrock. South-central Kentucky is a classic example of a well-developed karst landscape and includes the longest-known cave system, Mammoth Cave. The Mammoth Cave karst aquifer contains 28 major groundwater basins, of which the Hidden River groundwater subbasin has been severely impacted by anthropogenic contaminants. Hidden River Cave, located in the city of Horse Cave, Kentucky, forms one of the main tributaries of the Hidden River groundwater subbasin that spans parts of Barren, Hart, and Metcalf counties. Hidden River Cave formed in Mississippian-aged carbonates and consists of a dendritic network of canyons and collapsed domes. A major trunk stream flows through the cave, contributing recharge to the Mammoth Cave aquifer, and supports myriad subsurface ecosystems. Poor land-use practices, including changing residential, commercial, and industrial boundaries, historically have contaminated the cave stream. As a result, the hydrology of the Hidden River groundwater subbasin has been extensively studied using fluorescent dye-tracing techniques. Recent developments in groundwater resource management have improved cave conditions; however, land-use boundaries in Horse Cave that intersect with areas of recharge may still influence how contaminants are introduced into the groundwater system. This research characterizes recharge to Hidden River Cave via fluorescent dye-tracing, cave stream discharge

measurements, and geographic information systems analysis. Land-use practices in Horse Cave are examined, as groundwater resource management varies between municipalities and counties. In addition, this research provides a more detailed description of the Hidden River groundwater subbasin and provides scientific data to the American Cave Conservation Association for more informed management of Hidden River Cave. Further, these methods can be used to evaluate groundwater resource management in other transboundary karst regions.

Degree Program

Department of Geography and Geology

Degree Type

Master of Science


Environmental Sciences | Geology