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21-04-2020 | Paper | Issue 5/2020 Open Access

Hydrogeology Journal 5/2020

Global distribution of carbonate rocks and karst water resources

Hydrogeology Journal > Issue 5/2020
Nico Goldscheider, Zhao Chen, Augusto S. Auler, Michel Bakalowicz, Stefan Broda, David Drew, Jens Hartmann, Guanghui Jiang, Nils Moosdorf, Zoran Stevanovic, George Veni
Important notes
This article describes a project supported by the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) Commission on Karst Hydrogeology (https://​karst.​iah.​org/​)


Karst regions offer a variety of natural resources such as freshwater and biodiversity, and many cultural resources. The World Karst Aquifer Map (WOKAM) is the first detailed and complete global geodatabase concerning the distribution of karstifiable rocks (carbonates and evaporites) representing potential karst aquifers. This study presents a statistical evaluation of WOKAM, focusing entirely on karst in carbonate rocks and addressing four main aspects: (1) global occurrence and geographic distribution of karst; (2) karst in various topographic settings and coastal areas; (3) karst in different climatic zones; and (4) populations living on karst. According to the analysis, 15.2% of the global ice-free continental surface is characterized by the presence of karstifiable carbonate rock. The largest percentage is in Europe (21.8%); the largest absolute area occurs in Asia (8.35 million km2). Globally, 31.1% of all surface exposures of carbonate rocks occur in plains, 28.1% in hills and 40.8% in mountains, and 151,400 km or 15.7% of marine coastlines are characterized by carbonate rocks. About 34.2% of all carbonate rocks occur in arid climates, followed by 28.2% in cold and 15.9% in temperate climates, whereas only 13.1 and 8.6% occur in tropical and polar climates, respectively. Globally, 1.18 billion people (16.5% of the global population) live on karst. The highest absolute number occurs in Asia (661.7 million), whereas the highest percentages are in Europe (25.3%) and North America (23.5%). These results demonstrate the global importance of karst and serve as a basis for further research and international water management strategies.
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