The term karst breakdown is employed in this paper to denote the totality of processes and phenomena of gravitational and/or hydrodynamic destruction of the ceiling of a karst cavity and of the overlying sediments. It refers not only to the existence of a surface subsidence (collapse) feature but, first of all, to the “internal” (hidden in the subsurface) structures that precede development of a surface form. This study reports and discusses the results of direct mapping and examination of breakdown structures in the gypsum karst of the Western Ukraine, at the level of their origin, i.e. in caves. The accessibility of numerous laterally extensive maze cave systems in the region provided an excellent opportunity for such an approach, which made it possible to examine the relationship between breakdown structures and particular morphogenetic or geological features in caves, and to reveal stages of breakdown development. It is found that breakdown is initiated mainly at specific speleogenetically or geologically “weakened” localities, which classify into a few distinct types. The most of breakdowns, which are potent to propagate through the overburden, relate with the outlet cupolas/domepits that represent places where water had discharged out of a cave to the upper aquifer during the period of transverse artesian speleogenesis. Distribution of breakdown structures does not correlate particularly well with the size of the master passages. Several distinct mechanisms of breakdown development are revealed, and most of them proceed in several stages. They are guided by speleogenetic, geological and hydrogeological factors. The study confirms that a speleogenetic approach is indispensable to the understanding of breakdown pre-requisites and mechanisms, as well as for eventual subsidence hazard assessment. Direct observations in caves, aimed both at speleogenetic investigation and breakdown characterization on regional or site-specific levels, should be employed wherever possible.



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