Environment / Karst of Puerto Rico
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Northern karst region of Puerto Rico, between Aguadilla and Loíza
The word "karst" comes from the name of an enormous limestone plateau located along the border between the border Yugoslavia and Italy, where Austrian speleologists studied and described the phenomenon. Karst or karstic formations refer to the portions of the earth’s surface made up mainly of limestone, which contains calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and dissolves due to acidic water eroding and breaking the rock down.

About one third of the land of Puerto Rico is karstic (Figure 1) [Figura 1]. The largest region is the northern edge of Puerto Rico, between Aguadilla and Loíza. This region is characterized by large-scale processes of breaking down and dissolution of rock. A second broad karstic region is in the southwestern area, between Ponce and Cabo Rojo. Here these same processes are hardly apparent. There are also outcroppings of limestone scattered through the mountainous volcanic region in the center of the island.

The phenomenon of karstification in Puerto Rico basically formed on limestone made up primarily of calcium carbonate, though it also developed on other kinds of rock to a much lesser degree. Some 95 percent of the carbonate rock is of biological origin. This is a phenomenon that also occurs in Cuba and other Caribbean islands. Carbonate rock derives from the skeletal remains of marine organisms deposited on the bed of shallow seas (continental and island shelves) millions of years ago. Most of the organisms involved were coral reefs and accumulations of coral colonies that contain the bones of fish, conch shells, urchins and other organisms that consolidated over time.

These sedimentary strata on the bottom of the sea broke up and crumbled as the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust moved and converged. Eventually geological movement pushed the seabed up and formed limestone mountains. This took place during the mid tertiary period of the Cenozoic era. The constant movement of the surface of the earth over millions of years produced faults and fractures in this limestone rock. At the same time, several strata of rock were exposed to the elements. The corrosive and erosive action of such natural elements as rain and wind degraded the foundations of the weaker parts of the limestone crust. That is why karst has its very particular and varied forms in different parts of the world.

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