• Two types of barite speleothems are described from Lechuguilla Cave (NM, USA)
  • These are bluish tabular pool crystals and actively dripping greenish stalactites
  • They form in today’s non-hydrothermal and vadose environment
  • They form via evaporation, mixing of differing fluids, and/or by microbial activity
  • Three types of microbes were found partly incrusted on the pool barite


Barite (BaSO4) speleothems have been reported from caves around the globe and interpreted to have chiefly formed in phreatic, hypogene, hydrothermal settings. Here we report two contrasting types of barite speleothems (bluish tabular crystals in a shallow pool and actively dripping greenish stalactites), which today form at lower temperatures in the non-hydrothermal and vadose environment of Lechuguilla Cave, New Mexico, USA. Scanning electron microscopy analysis, along with energy- and wavelength-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS, WDS), as well as X-ray diffraction (XRD), characterize the habit and chemical composition as barite. Fractionation of the minor element calcium is related to growth along different crystal faces whereas variations in strontium concentration are mirrored in blue color zoning of the pool crystals. Two possible modes of non-hydrothermal barite precipitation are discussed: (1) intense evaporation driven by thermal atmospheric convection cells or (2) mixing of barium-rich, sulfate-poor water with water rich in sulfate. Both processes, in isolation or in combination, lead to supersaturation and could explain formation of the investigated barite speleothems. Observations of three types of microbes on the pool barite crystals showing evidence of incrustation raises the question whether there is a potential involvement of microbial activity in the temperate barite precipitation in Lechuguilla Cave.



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