Tennessee Cave Distribution Map, 2016

Tennessee Cave Distribution, 2016

I update this map yearly as new Tennessee Cave Survey data becomes available. It's partly an exercise in process of map making where I can track my yearly progress as a cartographer. But it's also data that people seem to find interesting. Initially I was surprised that so many people were interested to know about the world around them.

Now I understand that all people have a basic curiosity about them. Most folks from middle and east Tennessee have a personal experience about caves they are eager to share. I enjoy hearing about people's cave experiences: what they did as teenagers, how their family stored butter in a cave near their house, that a family used a spring as a water source, local history associated with caves. Caves can be time capsules, storing and preserving information for long periods of time. Unfortunately, many human stories are lost to time, so informal cave historians like myself (and the handful of formal cave historians) are always keen to learn how the physical landscape interacts with the cultural landscape.

Looking at the map one can't help but notice the NxNE by SxSW distribution trend. That line following the rim of the Cumberland Plateau whose geology is a layer cake (one rock unit sitting atop the other akin to a layer cake). At the contact of a sandstone as the top unit, and a limestone as a bottom unit one tends to get cave development. The sandstone allows the transportation of water in the rock, and when it encounters the limestone, it begins to dissolve away the bedrock and transport it away in solution. The most prolific contact, the Hartselle / Monteagle contact accounts for about 70% of the known caves in Tennessee.

If you want to learn more about the geology of the Eastern Highland Rim in which this line of caves is formed, see these blog posts:
Tennessee's Eastern Highland Rim - Part 1 - Geology
Tennessee's Eastern Highland Rim - Part 2 - Geography