Karst in Missouri

A Cave in MissouriKarst is a landscape characterized by the presence of caves, springs, sinkholes and losing streams. Because of this karst topography, Missouri is home to not only large rivers and beautiful streams, we have plentiful underground water resources as well. Fifty-nine percent of the state is underlain by thick, carbonate rock units that host a wide variety of karst features. According to the Missouri Speleological Survey, there are now more than 6,000 known caves in Missouri. A spring database maintained by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources currently lists more than 3,000 springs in the state. Sinkholes have been inventoried in only a few counties: Greene County reports more than 2,500, and Perry County reports more than 7,000. Losing streams have not been fully inventoried statewide, but there are hundreds of miles of losing streams recorded, and probably twice that much that are unrecorded.


karst – A landscape characterized by the presence of caves, springs, sinkholes and losing streams, created as groundwater dissolves soluble rock such as limestone or dolomite.

cave – A natural cavity beneath the earth’s surface. Caves are formed when slightly acidic water combines with limestone or dolomitic rock, and dissolves the rock, creating a cavity.

spring– A natural discharge of water from a rock or soil to the surface.

sinkhole– A rounded depression in the landscape formed when an underground cavity collapses.

losing stream– A surface stream that loses a significant amount of its flow to the subsurface through bedrock openings.

limestone – A sedimentary rock composed of calcium carbonate; a rock of marine origin derived from the lime mud and ooze that accumulated on calm, shallow sea floors.