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Mapping Known and Potential Karst Areas in the Northwest Territories, Canada

Mapping Known and Potential Karst Areas in the Northwest Territories, Canada

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Published by George Lessard
Mapping Known and Potential Karst Areas in the Northwest Territories, Canada Derek Ford, PGeo., PhD, FRSC.
Emeritus Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences, McMaster University dford@mcmaster.ca
August 2009
For:
Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories
Mapping Known and Potential Karst Areas in the Northwest Territories, Canada Derek Ford, PGeo., PhD, FRSC.
Emeritus Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences, McMaster University dford@mcmaster.ca
August 2009
For:
Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories

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Published by: George Lessard on May 09, 2014
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11/24/2014

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Mapping Known and Potential Karst Areas in the Northwest Territories Canada
Derek Ford, PGeo., PhD, FRSC. Emeritus Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences, McMaster University dford@mcmaster.ca For: Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories August 2009
 
(i)
Executive Summary
The Goal of this Report is to Produce Maps of the Known and Potential Karst Landform Sites in the Northwest Territories (NWT) Karst landforms are those created by the dissolution of comparatively soluble rocks and the routing of the water (from rain or snowmelt) underground via caves rather than at the surface in river channels. The principal karst rocks are salt (so soluble that it is scarcely seen at the surface in the NWT), gypsum and anhydrite (solubility around 2500 mg/l of water), and limestone and dolomite (solubility around 250 -350 mg/l). All of these rock types are common and widespread amongst the sedimentary strata in the NWT. Surface karst landforms include: a)
 
karren,
which are spreads of individually small solution pits, shafts, and runnels that, collectively, may cover many hectares (
limestone pavements
);  b)
 
sinkholes
 of solutional, collapse, or other origin that can be tens to hundreds of metres in diameter and proportionally as deep. Sinkholes are considered the diagnostic karst landform worldwide; c)
 
larger topographically closed depressions that may flood or drain seasonally,
 poljes
 if flat-floored, otherwise
turloughs;
 d)
 
extensive
dry valleys
 and
gorges
, dry because their formative waters have  been captured underground. All water sinking underground via karst landforms of all sizes drain quickly in comparison with all other types of groundwater because they are able to flow through solutionally enlarged conduits, termed
caves
 where they are of enterable size. In principle, karst development in the NWT might be expected to be limited due to: (i) the impacts of repeated episodes of glaciation bulldozing sinkholes and blocking caves and (ii) the post-glacial growth of permafrost, which inhibits groundwater flow through the top few metres or tens of metres of the soil and rock. It is therefore surprising to find that karst landforms and groundwater flow are widespread in the NWT, and display great variety in both form and scale, the richest known anywhere in the arctic/sub-arctic regions of our planet. Globally, karst is of great economic importance for water supplies with ~20% of the world’s population partly to entirely dependent on it as a source. Limestone and dolomite are widely used for road and building stone and host economic minerals, and oil and gas. The karst-centred tourist industry is large, with income >$1 billion annually. There are more than 20 important karst areas amongst the UNESCO World Heritage natural  properties, including Wood Buffalo and Nahanni National Parks in the NWT.
 
(ii) Report Methods and Their Limitations All karst features detected were plotted onto the 38 1:250,000 scale topographic maps listed in Appendix A. This scale permits both (i) generalization to Territory-wide smaller map scales, and (ii) recognition of areas of special interest that may warrant mapping at the 1:50,000 scale. Some of the plotted data were derived from earlier work by the contractor, his research students, and published reports and maps of others; however, this covers only a small proportion of the total area of interest. Most of data derive from stereoscopic study, over four days in September 2008, of black-and-white 1:50,000 air  photos at the National Air Photo Library (now Geomatics Canada), Ottawa. All flight lines were studied in areas judged of prime interest and only sample traverses were used where it was suspected that karst features would be very limited or absent entirely. All of the largest features detected were later checked against 1:50,000 topographic maps at McMaster University Library, Hamilton, for their accuracy of delineation. The chief limitation of this work is that of the amount of time available for the air photo analysis. In addition, where the land is covered by boreal forest it is difficult to detect much limestone pavement and its associated alvar floral assemblages on the black-and-white air photographs, and small springs or sinkholes Karst Regions of the Northwest Territories On geological and physiographical grounds the karst development may be divided into seven differing regions, as follows:-
1. Southeastern Region
(Topographic Sheets 85A –D) Broadly from the Alberta border, west of Slave River, northwards to the shore of Great Slave Lake, and westwards to Kakisa Falls. It has upper and lower plains of limestone, dolomite and impure dolomites that are separated by a low, discontinuous escarpment. The dolomites are underlain by gypsum. The prominent karst landforms are collapse sinkholes 100 m or more in diameter created by gypsum dissolution undermining dolomite. More than 2000 large examples are found within the boundaries of Wood Buffalo National Park. There are also sinking rivers and many springs, including some salt springs that indicate long distances of underground flow for some of the water. The most concentrated and attractive karst is within the existing National Park but there are also important extensions northwards towards Pine Point. Further west some of the strata  become less pure and soluble so that karst is largely reduced to spreads of pavement (e.g. around Alexandra Falls) that are difficult to detect on the air photos; some fine alvars have been reported there.

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