- We describe a set of paleokarst caves, fossilized by ochre and fossiliferous fills
- Ochre fills consist of Fe (hydrated)oxides, and are probably reworked lateritic paleosols
- Caves show a succession of phreatic, vadose, and epiphreatic phases
- Siliciclastic fills contain clasts that are extraneous to the carbonate-only geology of the area
- The fills contain fossil assemblages that indicate a littoral environment
This paper describes a set of paleokarst caves at Torricelle Hills near Verona (Southern Alps, Italy.) At this locality, erosional surfaces and paleokarst cavities show that sedimentation of late Paleogene neritic limestones was interrupted by subaerial exposure. Karst features developed during a phase of marine regression that started after the early Oligocene and ended in the mid Miocene. These caves were originally completely filled by iron oxides- and hydrated oxides-rich paleosol sediments (ochre) that, for centuries, have been mined for pigments. Mining activity emptied the caves, leaving the voids and related shapes mostly intact; as a result, the original morphologies have been exhumed, making these caves a rare example of explorable paleokarst. These “ochre caves” were mapped in a series of surveys over a few years. The exploration of overall 4.5 km of accessible passages in four caves yielded a wealth of information on speleological features, stratigraphy, paleontology, and paleogeography, and here we exploit this information to infer the genesis of these unusual caves. Their evolution started in phreatic conditions, characterized by very slowly moving or still waters that led to the formation of solution facets. A vadose phase of development ensued, followed by infilling by reworked soil-derived sediment and associated paragenetic modifications. Sediment accumulation ended with the complete fossilization of the caves under epiphreatic conditions. Siliciclastic and carbonate sediments containing littoral fossils indicate that the caves developed in the vicinity of a coast, and that they were subject to marine ingression. Overall, these paleokarst coastal caves seem to be a fossilized example, well preserved and explorable, of the Carbonate Island Karst Model on larger islands. We interpret these caves as conduits that drained the freshwater lens in a spatially limited carbonate peninsula that existed in this part of the Lessini paleocoastline between the Oligocene and the Miocene.
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Gonzato, G., Borghi, E., Chignola, R., Preto, N., Rossi, G., 2023. Paleokarst coastal caves at Torricelle Hills (Lessini Mountains, Venetian Prealps, Italy). International Journal of Speleology, 52(2), 123-138. https://doi.org/10.5038/1827-806X.52.2.2462