The use of GIS in the Study of Karst and Society Relationships
One of the basic questions in geography is to what extent are the social parameters influenced by environmental settings. We study this question in the context of karst terrains, because karstlands have special morphological, hydrological, pedological and ecological features. The relationship of karst-geo-ecosystem and society is two-way. However, in this study, we examine only the positive and negative effects of karst exerted on humans living on karst terrains.
Nowadays, GIS-methodology opens up new opportunities to examine human-environment relationships in quantitative terms. An interesting approach is hypsographic demography, which explores how demographic parameters change according to relief categories. We applied this approach to the country of Montenegro, to Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst and to the Apuseni Mts (Romania). We took into consideration not only relief, but distance from rivers, lithology and other factors, too. Beside the use of GIS, we also created semi-structured interviews with local people in order to explore problems and the way of life of people living on karst.
Our results demonstrate that basic relief characteristics strongly determine the spatial distribution of population and settlements, the most important factors being in general the relative elevation, slope and distance from rivers. Karst terrains belong to the most rarely inhabited areas in all cases, however, their population density is influenced by the type of karst, too. Most karst landscapes are characterized by lower development, higher unemployment, ageing demography and emigration. Practically, the only „social” advantage of karst terrains is connected to their tourism potential (caves, gorges, preserved natural conditions).