The NSS Bulletin - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 52 Number 1: 33-44 - June 1990

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Meander Cutoff Caves and Self Piracy: The Consequences of Meander Incision Into Soluble Rocks
John E. Mylroie and Joan R. Mylroie


When meander incision occurs into soluble rock materials such as limestone, karst processes can alter river flow patterns in a manner, and with a rapidity, that is not available on insoluble rocks. The development of dissolution conduits or caves through meander necks is especially important. Efficient self-piracy of a stream through a meander cutoff cave causes abandonment of the meander loop. Abandonment of the meander loop will inhibit further development of any meander cutoff cave draining the abandoned meander loop to the next meander downstream. Sedimentation of the abandoned meander loop may choke both the meander cutoff cave feeding the abandoned meander loop, as well as tributary caves draining the surrounding upland to that meander loop. The relative efficiency of meander cutoff caves will control which meander loops and meander cutoff caves become abandoned. Examples of meander cutoff cave formation from flatlying Paleozoic limestones in Kentucky, and from glaciated Precambrian marbles in New York demonstrate the complex interaction of meander cutoff cave development. Structure, carbonate lithology and climate in this type of speleogenesis is subordinate to the geomorphologic and hydrologic setting of the surface meanders.

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