ⓘ Uvala (landform)


ⓘ Uvala (landform)

Uvala is originally a local toponym used by people in some regions in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia. In geosciences it denotes a closed karst depression, a terrain form usually of elongated or compound structure and of larger size than that of sinkholes. It is a morphological form frequently found in the" Outer Dinarides” anywhere between Slovenia and Greece. But large closed karst depressions are found on all continents in different landscapes and therefore uvala has become a globally established term, used also to distinguish such depressions from poljes. Definitions of uvalas are often poorly empirically supported." The coalescence of dolines” is a most frequently found and still dominant explanation. Yet because of the ongoing dissatisfaction with this definition the term uvala’ has often been belittled – occasionally it was even proposed that the term be given up altogether.

However, recent empirical research ~2009 revised poor mainstream definitions, stating that" …uvalas are large in km scale karst closed depressions of irregular or elongated plan form resulting from accelerated corrosion along major tectonically broken zones.” This is arguing for the" re-introducing of uvalas into modern karstology” – distinguishing them from dolines and poljes in size typically and" also in morphology and combination of genetic factors”, which give them" a status of a particular karst relief form.”


1. Uvalas in early karstology

Thanks to the research work of the Serbian geographer Jovan Cvijic 1865–1927, the protege of Albrecht Penck the Nestor of the Vienna School of Physical Geography, the word uvala – like the words karst’, dolina’ or polje’, popular terms of the Dinarides – became an established international standard. As the father of Karst Morphology and Hydrogeology, Cvijic envisioned the phenomena of karstology in his publications, first in regions of Europe and then all over the world.

Early karstologists like Cvijic 1921 believed the long term processes of evolution of each karst depression could be explained in cyclic theories:

Dolines evolve into uvalas, and uvalas into poljes.

However, the increasing body of literature and data collected on karst on all continents, and the global insight that climate ought to be considered as an essential genetic factor in all karst analysis, raised growing concern that this definition may be unsatisfactory.


2. The mainstream definitions of uvala

These days most authors consider theories of cyclic karst evolution as outdated or even as untenable. Some authors, while dismissing cyclic theory, at the same time discard the term uvala altogether:" …This mechanism is no longer accepted and the term uvala has fallen into disuse”, Lowe&Waltham 1995. In the comprehensive primer Karst Hydrogeology and Geomorphology’, written by Ford&Williams 2007 for the English oriented world, likewise in their contributions in English encyclopedias, the uvala is simply not a factor in their karst models.

With his influence and publications the internationally renown German morphologist, Herbert Lehmann, put an end to the focus of karstology on warm temperate climate. Lehmann in 1973: "Der mediterrane Karst, im engeren Sinne der Dinarische Karst, ist nicht das Musterbeispiel der Karstentwicklung uberhaupt, sondern eher Ausnahme", Lehmann 1973/1987 Dinaric karst is an exception.

Nevertheless, the mainstream position of karstology and especially non-European karstology still dominates with the somewhat singular, empirically unsupported, definition:

As solution depressions evolve, some enlarge laterally and coalesce, producing compound closed depressions known as uvalas.

Large closed depression formed by the coalescence of several dolines which have enlarged towards each other.

For most English textbooks and encyclopedias and additionally some German equivalents the term uvala is straightforward. When only briefly defined, one of the above cited definitions, in most cases Sweeting’s 1973, is used. Yet, the definition dolines coalescing into uvalas’ is logically the first part of the cyclic theory, claimed to having been little used or abolished!

Most scientific monographs however, such as comprehensive empirical studies, confirm the existence of the authentic type of uvala – yet most monographs analyze European objects only, and most are written and published in languages other than English.


3.1. Technical sciences progress in support of uvala as a particular relief form? New contributions of technical sciences

Large closed karst depressions are an important phenomenon on all continents, yet their analysis apart from and beyond dolines is rare. Assessing the potential of new knowledge, especially on the question of the genesis and evolution of large depressions, is very difficult. Possibly the studies of geological dating, interdisciplinary Tectonics, Seismotectonics and Climatology will open a window to look into earlier periods of evolution.

The recent progress in methods and measuring techniques in the sciences with the regard to geological objects allows dating’ in dimensions of several hundred thousand or even million years – with high precision.

Some progress in dating was made by ensuring that examined sediment probes and fossils have not only been exposed to surface, where denudation, weathering or corrosion are in effect. Rather" allochthonous” objects, objects which were moved and washed into cavities, transported into fissures or caves might be archive elements of early karst activity and tectonic stages of nearby large closed depressions.


3.2. Technical sciences progress in support of uvala as a particular relief form? Dating with modern techniques in the Swabian Alb

Results for a reliable age were achieved, e.g., by combining uranium-thorium dating, paleo geological and paleontological dating in sediment beddings probes and fossils inside the cave de:Karls- und Barenhohle on the Swabian Alb, Germany. The isotope-method yielded an age of ca. 450 thousand years ka. Taking into account fossil analysis, a denudation rate, the local and regional lithology and the position of the primeval river cave now dry high above the recent valley bottom, the age of the cave was determined to be roughly five million years Ma, Ufrecht/Abel 2003.

In 2006 fossil remains in sediments of unroofed caves of the Middle Swabian Alb were successfully dated, Ufrecht 2006. The remains of large land-mammals of seven genera were lithologically and bio-stratigraphically paleontologically classified into the biozones MN1 to MN17 of the European Land Mammal Mega Zones ELMMZ table. These found genera overlapped only in MN9, which is ca. eleven Ma.


3.3. Technical sciences progress in support of uvala as a particular relief form? Dating with modern techniques on the Dinarides

Recent analysis of sediments in caves and unroofed caves of Slovenia produced in some cases ages of ca. 450ka. In the Postojna Caves Slovenia the method of paleomagnetism in combination with paleontological studies yielded a dating comparable to that on the Swabian Alb. Thus those caves themselves were estimated to have an age of ca. 3.4 Ma.

Carbonate rocks of the Dinarides are 4500 to 8000 m thick and thus reach deep below the current sea level. There are thousands of caves in the Dinarides. Baksic 2008 published the systematic exploration of eight shafts on Mt. Velebit, the deepest, Lukina Jama, explored down to 1431 m, only 83 m above sea level.


4. Extremely retrospective views: The genetic and evolutionary issue

If an age of karst depressions larger than dolines beyond 2.6 Ma is possible, that is: depression development may possibly have started in Pliocene or even in Miocene, then depressions were already formed in Europe’s sub-tropical climates.

However, even if a very high age of a depression is assumed, which karst form will emerge? ”Very similar genetic factors can lead to the development of different forms, depending on the conditions within a karst area", Calic 2009 p. 166f.


5. Uvala revisited: Tectonics. Accelerated corrosion along major tectonically broken zones’ of regional faults

The geographer Jelena Calic, chose to analyze large karst depressions using geomorphological morphometrical and structural geologic mapping methods. This way Calic gained more data of tectonically induced subsurface traces. Forty-three large karst depressions potential uvalas, sampled by shape, size and elevation in the Dinarides of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina’, Montenegro, and Serbia were analyzed by digital elevation models DEM and field research. The results were published in English in the journal Geomorphology, Amsterdam, 2011’, Calic 2011. In twelve of the forty-three studied depressions detailed structural-geological mapping following the method of J. Car 2001) was carried out. This mapping" revealed dominant development of uvalas along tectonically broken zones’ of regional scale”, the broken zones’ being highly permeable.

The Croatian mountain chain Velebit is probably the richest area in karstic uvalas of the Dinarides, Poljak 1951 cited by Calic 2009 p. 70. The breccia in this chain – there known as Jelar breccia – show very extensive outcropping. These highly permeable carbonate breccias are a prominent feature of" Middle Eocene to Middle Miocene” age faulting activities in the Velebit area, Vlahovic et al 2012. The deep incision of Velebit’s most prominent uvala Lomska Duliba can be explained by the presence of the Jelar breccias, Calic 2009, p. 72.


5.1. Uvala revisited: Tectonics. Accelerated corrosion along major tectonically broken zones’ of regional faults New definition of uvala

Calic 2011 defines uvala as follows:" The term uvala must be excluded from such contexts,” cyclic concepts" because they discredit its true meaning.”.”Calic 2009 and Calic 2011.

Calic in a nut shell: There are deficits in most previous uvala-definitions. The revision was overdue. It re-introduces uvalas into modern karstology!

The second edition of the Encyclopedia of Caves’, Culver&White 2012, amongst others, added the keyword Dinaric Karst, Geography and Geology’, Zupan Hanja 2012, while U. Sauro revised his keyword Closed Depressions’ – in part, so that both authors now fully endorse Calic’s revival of the term karstic uvala.


6. Do uvalas have global relevance?

Calic’s work and resulting definition affirms that Dinaric uvalas are karst forms in their own right. The question remains whether this is relevant globally and in different climates. Possibly the postulate of Lehmann 1973/1987 that Dinaric Karst is not representative for karst worldwide see above, with respect to uvalas must be re-examined.

In the comprehensive karst modelling of Ford&Williams 2007 uvalas are irrelevant. Yet, they consider the term uvala indispensable and use it no less than six times to describe karst phenomena found in different epochs, climates and regions of various continents, in some cases with reference to other authors.

A German publication lists fifty-seven Karstwannen’ on the Swabian Alb, Bayer&Groschopf 1989. Together with a few more on the karstic Franconian Jura, there may well be about 70 large depressions, half of which are 1000-4500m in length. According to Bayer&Groschopf, p. 182 "they correspond to geomorphological forms of uvalas).

Pfeiffer 2010 discusses Karstwannen" Karst depression", Uvala", Polje" of the Swabian Alb, the Franconian Jura and those of the Causses southern France. "Die Karstwannen sind eigenstandige Formen, die eine zeitweise groSflachige Tieferlegung der Gesteinsoberflache belegen", S. 210. Yet considering the terms uvala or polje, he is undecided, mainly because

  • the lack of correspondence with the mainstream-definition,
  • "Die Wannen weisen zum Teil sehr machtige Fullungen auf, die regional sehr unterschiedlich sind und eine Spanne von tertiaren Sedimenten uber quartare periglaziale Schichten bis hin zu Kolluvium umfassen", S. 212 Some of the Wannen have tremendous fillings. The size of the fillings differs from region to region. There are sediments of various ages, ranging from tertiary to quaternary periglacial sediments or even colluvium.
  • of his own findings of shapes,
  • the very sparse literature on a West- or Central European feature of the kind.

Large areas of the Alps, those flanking the central massive on the north and the south Northern Limestone Alps, Southern Limestone Alps, geologically consist of limestone stratigraphy of various ages. A lot of geological research in speleology, tectonics and petrology has been done, but this rarely focuses on large closed karst depressions like uvalas. The Funtensee-Uvala’ Steinernes Meer of the Berchtesgaden Alps is an exception, which was analyzed and published in the context of a project of the Berchtesgaden National Park.


7.1. World occurrences of uvalas some examples Europe examples

  • England, Sweeting 1972
  • Germany Swabian Alb, Franconian Jura, Pfeiffer 2010
  • Ireland, Gunn 2004

Limestone Alps

  • Funtensee, Berchtesgaden, Fischer 1985
  • Venetian Prealps, Sauro 2003


  • Palomares Martin 2012
  • Romania, Ford&Williams 2007
  • Greece, Jalov&Stamenova 2005
  • Serbia, Recke, Busovata, Nekudovo, Igriste, Brezovica Carpathians, east Serbia
  • Portugal, Nicod 2003
  • France, Les Causses’, Nicod 2003
  • Calaforra Chordi&Berrocal Perez 2008


  • Numerous uvalas in four countries, inter alia, Calic 2009
  • Kanji Dol, Mrzli Log, Grda Draga, etc. Slovenia
  • Rupa, Zdralovac, Klekovacka Uvala, etc. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Ljeskovi Dolovi, Ubaljski Do, Illinski Do, etc. Montenegro
  • Lomska Duliba, Veliki Lubenovac, Mirovo, Bilenski Padez, Duboki Dol, Ravni and Crni Dabar, etc. Croatia


7.2. World occurrences of uvalas some examples Other continents examples


  • Appalachian Mountains, Herak 1972
  • Oklahoma, Ford&Williams 2007
  • New-Mexiko, Ford&Williams 2007


  • Marocco, Jennings 1987
  • various, Gunn 2004


  • South east Asia, Gunn 2004
  • China, Gunn 2004
  • Iran, Bosak, et al 1999


  • New Zealand, Jennings 1987
  • Tasmania, Jennings 1987

8. Literature

Cvijic 1893, Das Karstphanomen. Versuch eine morphologischen Monographie. Cvijic, Jovan. in: Geographische Abhandlungen A. Penck, Hrsg, Bd. V, Heft 3, Wien

Davies, 1899, The Geographical Cycle, Davis, William M., The Geographical Journal, Vol. 14, No. 5 Nov., 1899, pp. 481–504

Cvijic 1901, Morphologische und glaziale Studien aus Bosnien, Herzegowina und Montenegro. II Teil, Die Karstpoljen, Cvijic, Jovan. in: Abhandlungen der K. K. Geograph. Gesellsch., Bd. III, Heft 2, Wien 1901

Grund 1903, Die Karsthydrographie: Studien aus Westbosnien. Grund, A., Geographischen Abhandlungen, Band VII, Heft 3, von A. Penck, 7, pp. 103–200.

Grund 1914, Der geographische Zyklus im Karst. Grund, A., Gesellschaft fur Erdkunde, 52, 621–40.

Cvijic 1921, Souterraine et Evolution Morphologique du Karst, Cvijic, J., Review by Sanders, E.M. in: Geographical Review, Vol. 11, No. 4 Oct., 1921, pp. 593–604

Cvijic, 1925 Types morphologiques des terrains calcaires. Cvijic, J., Comptes Rendus, Academie des Sciences Paris, 180, 592, 757, 1038.

Poljak 1951, Is a karst uvala a transitional form between a doline and a karst polje?, Polak, J., Croatian Geographical Bulletin, 13, Zagreb, 1951

Cvijic 1960, La geographie des terrains calcaires. Academie serbe des sciences et des arts, Cvijic, J., Monographie tome CCCXLI, Classe de sciences mathematique et naturelles, 26, 1–212

Fairbridge 1968, The encyclopedia of Geomorphology, Fairbridge, R.W., New York, N.Y., 1968

Herak 1972, Karst, important Karst regions of the northern Hemisphere, Herak, M., Stringfield, V. T., Amsterdam 1972

UNESCO 1972, Glossary and Multilingual Equivalents of Karst Terms. UNESCO, Paris 1972.

Sweeting 1973, Karst Landforms, selected glossary, compiled by K. Addison, Sweeting, M. M., London 1973.

Lehmann 1973/1987, Karstphanomene im Nordmediterranen Raum, 1973, Lehmann, Herbert, in: Fuchs, F., ed, Beitrage zur Karstmorphologie, Herbert Lehmann; Reprint noch aktueller Beitrage, Stuttgart 1987

Roglic 1974, Contribution to the Croatian karst terminology, Roglic, J., Krs Jugoslavije 9/1, Izdavacki zovod JAZU, Zagreb, 1974.

Gams 1978, The polje: the problem of definition. Gams, I., Zeitschrift fur Geomorphologie N.F. 22, Stuttgart 1978

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