Bulletin of the National Speleological Society - ISSN 0146-9517
Volume 34 Number 3: 89-110 - July 1972

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Dynamics of a Sinking Stream System: Onesquethaw Cave, New York
Arthur N. Palmer


Onesquethaw Cave, in Albany County, New Youk, has formed as the direct result of the subsurface diversion of a perennial surface stream. Throughout its history the cave has been subject to severe flooding by storm runoff, which has contributed much to its growth and to the development of a distinctive braided passage pattern. Runoff from a single storm is capable of producing dramatic erosional, solutional, and depositional changes. Where the geologic setting is simple, with continuous bedding-plane partings, the cave exhibits graded passages concordant to the bedding structure, but in areas of heterogeneous lithology and structural deformation the cave is complex, ungraded, and discordant to the structure, with numerous diversion passages formed by invading floodwaters. The diverse geologic setting has produced great variations in hydraulic efficiency within the active passages, with the result that floodwater is allowed to pond behind passage constrictions and create anormally steep hydraulic gradients within the limestone. Under these circumstances, maze passages and blind tubes are rapidly developed above the normal low-flow level of the phreatic zone by the turbulent, solutionally aggressvie floodwater. The underground courses of sinking streams, often considered simple in plan and development, actually can involve the most complex dynamics and conduit geometry of any groundwater setting.

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