Journal of Cave and Karst Studies - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 58 Number 2: 100-120 - August 1996

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Geologic and Hydrologic Controls on Karst and Cave Development in Belize
Thomas E. Miller


Nearly 3000 km² of Belize display well-developed karst that occurs dominantly on Cretaceous limestones distributed on the periphery of the Maya Mountains. Other exposed carbonates in Belize, sharing the same tropical climate and heavy rainfall, are not karsted. The Mayas represent a horst structure raised by movement of the Caribbean-North American plate boundary. In excess of 150 km of large cave passage has been mapped, often exhibiting multi-level development likely related to this regional tectonic motion. Passages are dominantly trunk conduits solutionally bored through the lower-lying limestones by integrated allogenic streams from the Mayas. Other large, independent caves and collapse chambers are also known. Limited U-series dating of speleothem gives minimum ages of 176 KaBP for cave development. The karst surfaces are dominated by disaggregated remnants of previous fluvial networks, but also contain spectacular collapse dolines. The karst aquifers appear to be solutionally “open” systems of relatively high porosity (>1%). Boosting of carbon dioxide levels above surface soil CO2 occurs within aquifers, perhaps due to decay of washed-in vegetation. Mean solutional erosion is estimated at 0.10-0.13 m/Ka for these karsts.

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