KTAG - Cave Density Map

Caves of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia (KTAG)
This is a map showing the density and distribution of caves in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia (KTAG). The strong line of density extending north-east from the intersection of Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia shows the western escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau where Mississippian aged limestones outcrop and are exposed to weathering processes.

At the southern end of the Cumberland Plateau it becomes more heavily dissected, with islands of Plateau present amidst the Highland Rim. Along the margins of these islands caves can be exposed, which explains the dispersion at the southern extent of the Plateau.

Central and Western Kentucky show a secondary area of cave density; a ring of Mississippian aged carbonates has been exposed from the weathering of the Cincinnati Arch. Mammoth Cave resides in the densest part of this region.

This map was created using data from the following sources:

  • Alabama Cave Survey (ACS)
  • Georgia Speleological Society (GSS)
  • Kentucky Speleological Society (KSS)
  • Tennessee Cave Survey (TCS)

ArcMap 10.3 by ESRI was used to create the map. Workflow follows.

· For Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia

  • Tabular data joins in Access, output to Excel table
  • Format Excel tables by converted DMS to DD
  • Reference E1 (only one entrance per cave; the first documented entrance) points
  • Spatially join points to county feature class and display count as label
  • Kernel Density

· For Kentucky

  • Summarize county table and tabular join to county feature class and display count as label
  • Summarize 7.5' quadrangle table and tabular join to 7.5' quadrangle feature class
  • Feature to point (create centroid) of quadrangle feature class; preserve count attribute
  • Kernel density with new quad centroid feature class with count as Z attribute

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Kentucky Cave Distribution Map, 2017

Kentucky Cave Distribution including Karst Geology, 2017 This map represents the generalized distribution of cave entrances in Kentucky based on data from the 2017 release of the Kentucky Speleological Society (the data is generalized by 7.5 minute quadrangle). A few easily observable patterns exist and are worth description.

The line of density which extends northeast / southwest shows the margin of the Cumberland Plateau where Mississippian aged limestones outcrop.

The ring of density west of there is the Inner Bluegrass Karst region where erosion of the Cincinnati Arch has exposed Middle Ordovician carbonates. The dense area centered at Edmonson, Hart, and Barren counties represents the Mammoth cave region and the caves of the Pennyroyal plateau. Mammoth Cave is still the world's longest cave, with a newly announced length of 412 miles.

The most cave entrance dense quadrangle recorded is Johnetta in Rockcastle County, but this is likely only sampling bias. This bias could occur because caves are easier to get to, or more likely because cavers are active in that area. Another possible example of sampling bias is in Carter County, which has been the focus of cavers and of much documentation. This may account for its high totals versus other limestone rich areas. To this end, this map serves as wonderful tool to generate the next areas of exploration, as we see several limestone areas that seem to have few caves.

Overall, Kentucky has 4,939 documented caves, and 5,547 documented cave entrances (some caves have more than one entrance). Data from the Kentucky Speleological Survey (KSS) comes from cavers and scientists, and has been collected and compiled since 2000.

Thanks Howard Kalnitz for the assist on this write up!