Gypsum stalactites in a cave formed via sulfuric acid dissolution (Lechuguilla Cave, New Mexico)

A solutional cave, solution cave, or karst cave is a cave usually formed in the soluble rock limestone. It is the most frequently occurring type of cave. It can also form in other rocks, including chalk, dolomite, marble, salt beds, and gypsum.[1]


Bedrock is dissolved by natural acid in groundwater that seeps through bedding planes, faults, joints, and the like. Over geological epochs, these openings expand as the walls are dissolved to become caves or cave systems.

The portions of a solutional cave that are below the water table or the local level of the groundwater are flooded.[2]

Limestone caves

Limestone cave Kolbinger Höhle[3]

The largest and most abundant solutional caves are located in limestone. Limestone caves are often adorned with calcium carbonate formations produced through slow precipitation. These include flowstones, stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, soda straws, calcite rafts, and columns. These secondary mineral deposits in caves are called "speleothems".

Carbonic acid dissolution

Limestone dissolves under the action of rainwater and groundwater charged with H2CO3 (carbonic acid) and naturally occurring organic acids. The dissolution process produces a distinctive landform known as "karst", characterized by sinkholes and underground drainage. Solutional caves in this landform—topography are often called karst caves.

Sulfuric acid dissolution

Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico and nearby Carlsbad Caverns are now believed to be examples of another type of solutional cave. They were formed by H2S (hydrogen sulfide) gas rising from below, where reservoirs of petroleum give off sulfurous fumes. This gas mixes with ground water and forms H2SO4 (sulfuric acid). The acid then dissolves the limestone from below, rather than from above, by acidic water percolating to the surface.





United States




  1. ^ "Solution Caves - Caves and Karst". U.S. National Park Service.
  2. ^ Burcham, John. "Learning about caves; how caves are formed". Journey into amazing caves. Project Underground. Retrieved September 8, 2009.
  3. ^ German Wikipedia: Kolbinger Höhle