• Low impact method for speleothem sampling
  • Cave conservation best practice


Speleothems are increasingly valued as important paleoclimate archives and yet the removal of samples from caves can come at a cost to natural heritage, impacting delicate environments with limited mechanisms for repair. Conservation of cave environments is a key responsibility for scientists and, with this in mind, we are working to develop and implement techniques that allow us to extract valuable scientific data, with minimal impact. In this study, we demonstrate the utility of low-impact reconnaissance dating surveys on caves in southern Tasmania and southwest Western Australia as a precursor to the removal of stalagmites for paleoclimate reconstruction. Small flakes of calcite were discretely extracted from the base and tip of fallen stalagmites and dated using U-Th techniques. We specifically targeted stalagmites that have naturally fallen or been previously broken by human interference, to further reduce our impact on the caves. This approach provides maximum and minimum age constraints for each stalagmite and valuable information of growth frequencies without the need to remove whole samples from the cave. Selecting the most appropriate samples to analyze based on reconnaissance ages greatly reduces the quantity of speleothem material to be removed from a cave to locate a desired interval of past time, mitigating the impacts of the research. Moreover, the reconnaissance age data enable us to build an archive of speleothem ages from the cave for future scientific research and to provide information on the age and nature of cave development, useful for cave management purposes and other studies. To assess the accuracy of this method we compared the reconnaissance age with the results of a detailed age evaluation on a small number of stalagmites removed from the caves. We have found this method to be effective and has allowed us to successfully identify several stalagmites suitable for our scientific objectives.



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