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by Jeff Matthews

A karst landscape is an underground freak show (pictured) formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks including limestone, dolomite and gypsum. The word, itself, is the German name of Kras, an area in Italy and Slovenia, where it is called Carso and where the phenomenon was first studied. Karst areas are characterized by sinkholes, caves, underground drainage systems and collapse triggered by the development of underlying caves. In popular perception, the best known features of karst areas are stalactites and stalagmites. The thing on the right is neither-nor—it's a "flowstone"; technically, all such delicacies are called speliothems. There are in southern Italy a number of fetching death-traps... caves...that will appeal to you if you are attracted by the depths of the earth (like our friend in the photo on the right. Are you kidding me?! I know him, and he has not surfaced yet, though we do get an occasional e-mail.) The discipline of studying these areas—not just karst caves, but any kind of cave—is called speleology. The sport of climbing around in them is called "caving" or "spelunking."

Read more...: Karst Caves and Caving in Southern Italy

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