Karst outreach and education

Karst geology of southeastern Minnesota poses big challenges for keeping our groundwater cleanThese educational materials provide place-based learning for students in southeast Minnesota.

Lesson plans: Karst and water pollution

PDF icon Lesson plans: Karst and water pollution (wq-gw1-04)

These four lessons provide an overview of karst geology starting with Minnesota’s basic geological history and processes and ending with student projects that explore best practices for protecting groundwater in karst regions. They are written for middle school ages and meet grade-6 standards for earth science from the Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards in Science (2019).

  1. Rocks tell stories. Activities introduce igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks, and the idea that rocks tell stories about what was here long ago. The sedimentary rocks of southeast Minnesota tell the story of an ancient sea.
  2. What is karst? Explore the chemistry behind karst geology and the dissolving power of water: the reaction between limestone and naturally occurring acidic water. Students will then identify and map their community’s karst features or water features and conduct oral history projects about water in their community.
  3. How does groundwater move in karst landscapes? Students use a "phenomenon statement" to facilitate inquiry about karst and groundwater. They will learn about aquifers, how water moves in southeast Minnesota, and why southeast Minnesota aquifers are vulnerable to contamination. 
  4. Living on karst. Students research types of groundwater pollution, where the contaminants come from, and what communities are doing to protect the health of people and wildlife in the karst region of Minnesota.

Videos: How groundwater moves

Video promotion: How nitrate moves in groundwaterHTML icon Videos: How groundwater moves in southeast Minnesota (MDA)

These videos are used in Lesson 3 on groundwater. They are also useful for people who use well water, Soil and Water Conservation District staff, agricultural producers and other professionals in the ag industry.

  • Part 1: How groundwater moves in southeast Minnesota. Learn where groundwater water comes from and how it moves through the bedrock. You will learn the differences among glacial till, karst, and bluffland karst landscapes of the Root River Watershed and how the groundwater aquifers are different in these landscapes.
  • Part 2: How contaminates like nitrate move to groundwater and surface water. Learn about the movement of contaminants to bedrock aquifers and drinking water wells. 

Infographics and animations: Glacial till, karst, and bluffland karst

Infographic/poster: How groundwater moves in southeast Minnesota: Karst landscape Cross section of the soil and bedrock formations characteristic of the karst region in southeast MinnesotaTo learn where you can borrow a poster, or to request an electronic copy, please contact Jen Schaust at MDA: Jen.Schaust@state.mn.us.

Detailed infographics show a cross-section of glacial till, karst, or bluffland karst landscape. Two-minute videos animate the key points contained in the posters. Teachers might want to consider these animated videos as an introduction to the karst videos, or use the programs on their own for a more basic lesson about groundwater.

  • Glacial till infographic and animation, How groundwater moves in the glacial till landscape
  • Karst infographic and animation, How groundwater moves in the karst landscape
  • Bluffland karst infographic and animation, How groundwater moves in the bluffland karst landscape

These video programs are not specific to karst regions and southeast Minnesota, but provide a great overview of groundwater for any region.

Posters and maps

  • Minnesota karst lands: High-resolution, downloadable image from the Pollution Control Agency
  • Principal Aquifers of the United States, USGS Map
  • Minnesota County Geologic Atlas: These county-level maps provides information about the geology and groundwater resources of a county, including the groundwater quality, quantity, and sensitivity to pollution. They are pretty technical, so also be sure to check out the User’s Guide for context and explanation. Published by the Minnesota Geological Survey and Minnesota DNR.

Story map: Virtual tour of karst in southeast Minnesota

With this virtual tour, explore 14 karst feature sites around Southeastern Minnesota. You’ll visit springs, sinkholes, and caves. The story map is used in the lesson on karst, found above.

Portable interactive exhibit

This exhibit can be reserved by public libraries for display at their location.

Other karst and geology education resources

Mapping Subterranean Waters (2016): An article from the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer.

PDF icon Geology of Minnesota: A guide for teachers

This guide is a summary of our understanding of Minnesota's geology. It is intended for earth science teachers grade 6-8 and others who have an interest or some background in geology. A collaborative effort between the Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota Geological Survey (1995).

Minnesota Geological Survey education page: MGS not only provides an assortment of educational publications, but MGS staff members are also available for tours, field trips, and educational presentations. 

Minnesota at a Glance Series. This series of four-page publications from the Minnesota Geological Survey offers an in-depth view of 10 different topics in Minnesota geology. Published between 2014 and 2017.

PDF icon Guide to fossil collecting in Minnesota

This still-relevant 1965 publication gives information about the geologic history of our state and has drawings that can be used to identify Minnesota fossils. The limestone bedrock in Southeast Minnesota is Paleozoic sedimentary rock.

Well testing and drinking water quality. Information from the Minnesota Department of Health. The Well Owners Handbook covers well basics, the potential for contamination and different types of aquifers.

MN Department of Natural Resources Geology Education (website): This resource provides basic background information on Minnesota geology, particularly in regards to mining, written at a basic level.

PDF icon The geology of Whitewater State Park

This 28-page booklet was published by the University of Minnesota as a part of the Minnesota Geological Survey Education Series in 1996. This booklet would be a good companion to a trip to Whitewater State Park.


Clean Water Land and Legacy AmendmentFunding for this project was provided from the Clean Water Fund to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams and to protect groundwater and drinking water from degradation.