Springs, springsheds, and karst


A spring is a focused, natural discharge where water emerges from the ground.

Springs are important water sources for coldwater streams (trout streams), cool and warm water streams, and lakes and ponds. They also sustain unique ecological habitats and have aesthetic and historical value that creates a special "sense of place" for local residents and visitors.

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Minnesota Spring Inventory

The Minnesota Spring Inventory (MSI) provides a statewide spatial database with information from historical records, field analysis, and citizen input. We need the help of citizens to expand on our current knowledge. You can report spring locations from your mobile device or home computer with the MSI Reporting App.


Springsheds are areas within groundwater and surface water basins that contribute discharge to springs.

Understanding the extent of springsheds is important for the protection of the groundwater supply to springs. This involves determining the size of the land area that contributes to spring discharge, which can encompass both a surface watershed and an underlying groundwatershed. The boundaries of groundwater springsheds do not necessarily correspond to those on the land surface and are dynamic in their areal extent, changing as groundwater levels rise and fall.

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Dye Tracing

Groundwater tracing, most often using fluorescent dye, is used to track groundwater flow and delineate springsheds. The Minnesota Groundwater Tracing Database (MGTD) provides access to dye trace reports, related publications, GIS files, and an interactive web map application.


Karst is a terrain with distinctive landforms and hydrology created primarily from the dissolution of soluble rocks. It is characterized by sinkholes, caves, springs, and underground drainage dominated by rapid conduit flow.

In karst, water dissolves fractures and joints in the bedrock forming a network of interconnected underground conduits that can carry groundwater long distances at speeds up to miles per day. Sinkholes, blind valleys, karst windows and springs are found on the land surface above underground karst systems and are thought of as surface expressions of karst or "karst topography." Karst also occurs in areas with few or none of these land surface features and therefore the absence of these features does not imply the absence of karst.

Minnesota with karst locations

Karst Feature Inventory

Karst influences water quality, aquifer pollution sensitivity, cold-water fisheries, manure application siting, waste water treatment plant siting, and a myriad of other land-use decisions, making this database essential in land and water resource management. The Minnesota Karst Feature Inventory (KFI), formerly known as the Karst Features Database (KFD), contains both reported and verified karst feature location information and additional remarks and measurements, where available.

View sinkholes, sinking streams, and other karst features with the following link.

Help report Minnesota karst features

Please report new karst features or edits to existing features through our contact email address [email protected] or see the Contacts page under "Springs and karst.”

Minnesota Regions Prone to Surface Karst Feature Development, GW-01

Areas prone to the development of karst features within 50 feet of the surface. GIS data can be used alone or in conjunction with the Karst Feature Inventory Points.

  • Report
  • GIS files GIS feature class was updated in 2020 and differs from what is shown on Figure 1 of the 2016 report (see metadata for details).

Karst Landscapes and Geomorphic Units

Karst landscapes and geomorphic unit maps can be used to help identify the groundwater characteristics beneath, since classic signs of karst (springs, sinkholes, and sinking streams) are not always present at the surface. Landscape and geomorphic units include the land surface and the connections to underlying aquifers.

  • Karst Hydrogeomorphic Units of Mower County
    Units are categorized into eight unique geomorphic terrains based on their hydrology, form, and geology and are useful for water and land use planning and management.

Video Animations of Groundwater Flow in Minnesota Karst Settings

Short videos use realistic graphics, animation, and aerial footage to illustrate the unique geologic features, the complex movement of water to bedrock aquifers and streams, and the vulnerability to contaminants like nitrate-nitrogen (nitrate).

More videos and graphics can be found on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture site: Southeast Minnesota Groundwater Resources.


See Contacts under "Springs and karst."

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