A review of UNESCO World Heritage karst landscapes and caves: What more needs to be done?

Category Geomorphology
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Williams, Paul
Holding Date 08 September 2008

The World Heritage Committee has noted that karst is well represented on the World Heritage List and so there is increasingly limited scope for further karst nominations. This paper reviews karsts already represented on the World Heritage List, identifies gaps and assesses the potential for nomination of new karst sites.
To evaluate the adequacy of coverage of existing World Heritage karst sites, the contribution that each makes to the global picture of karst and caves needs to be assessed, recognizing also that the character of karst varies as a consequence of lithology, geological structure, geomorphic history and climate. In spite of complications introduced by climate change and inherited landforms, broad differences in karst styles are recognized between the humid tropics and subtropics, the hot deserts, the humid temperate zone, and cold regions. A review of World Heritage properties shows there to be 43 with karst of international significance of which 24 are judged to be of outstanding universal value.
As a first step in assessing how comprehensively these sites represent world karst, it is instructive to plot their locations on a world map of carbonate rocks and on a graph that depicts their morphoclimatic setting. These identify significant gaps in: (1) the geographical distribution of karst sites, representation being particularly poor in Southern Hemisphere locations and in parts of Eurasia and the Middle East; and (2) the natural environmental distribution of karst sites, there being particularly poor representation in arid, semi-arid, and periglacial environments. It is also evident that (3) karsts on evaporite rocks are totally unrepresented on the World Heritage List.
There are numerous World Heritage properties with significant karst in humid temperate and tropical regions, and many of the existing properties include outstanding caves with rich and varied speleothem decoration and fossil-rich cave sediment accumulations, and the hydrogeological conditions under which they evolved encompasses a wide range of genetic conditions. Thus there is little scope for justifying inscription of new sites in those environments. Nevertheless, the process of nomination and inscription has been ad hoc and, as a result, has led to a suboptimal representation of karst values. This is apparent when considering the Dinaric Karst of Europe, the type region from which karst derives its name, the features and values of which are inadequately represented. Consequently, and assuming that Phase 2 of the South China Karst nomination will proceed, the highest priorities for completion of a comprehensive range of karst sites are (a) to cover more adequately the karst type region of Europe, (b) to fill gaps in cold, arid and tropical oceanic regions and (c) to nominate evaporite karsts.