• Central Basin and Range province is a major hypogenic cave region
  • Speleogenesis dates back to the Middle Miocene
  • Uranium-lead radiometric dates of cave mammillaries range between 14-2 Ma
  • Calc-siltite is made up of silt-sized calcite and quartz grains


Twenty-five caves displaying evidence of hypogene speleogenesis in White Pine County, Nevada, were studied between May 2022 and October 2023. Results demonstrate that the central Basin and Range Province is a major hypogenic cave region with speleogenesis dating back to the Middle Miocene. The U-Pb radiometric dates of cave mammillaries obtained so far cover a wide span of time, ranging between 14 Ma to 2 Ma. Tectonic shearing along the Snake Range Décollement up to about 22 Ma probably brackets the maximum age of speleogenesis. Thus, speleogenesis began between 22-14 Ma, which predates most of the Basin and Range extensional tectonism of the Late Miocene. Robust dates for the common mammillaries in the region have been hard to obtain mostly due to Pb contamination. There are elevated levels of Pb throughout the area, likely due to mineralized fluids associated with the décollement. While 11 mammillary samples (from 10 caves) have been assessed for U-Pb dating viability, five contained too much Pb for analysis. Hypogenic features in these caves include mammillaries, tilted folia, bubble trails, cupolas, ceiling vents/tubes, floor vents, acid lake basins, pseudoscallops (cusps), and boneyard (megacusps). A common and newly identified feature of these caves is extensive secondary deposits of a complex mixture with silt-sized calcite and quartz grains. Some quartz grains have calcite overgrowths, suggesting authigenic growth. We named these lithified, and very porous, deposits “calc-siltite”. Sulfuric acid speleogenesis (SAS) has been clearly demonstrated in only one cave, Lehman Caves, but is strongly suspected in at least four other study sites (Old Mans, Cathedral, #041709-NS-012, and #LC01 caves). However, the great antiquity of these hypogenic caves means that they have probably experienced climatic and surface geomorphologic changes resulting in extensive alterations by epigenic groundwater. The evidence specific to demonstrating SAS processes may have been removed or covered by later epigenic activities.



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Supplementary Table S1.pdf (85 kB)
Supplementary Table S1

Supplementary Table S2.xlsx (21 kB)
Supplementary Table S2