Corrosion morphology and cave wall alteration in an Alpine sulfuric acid cave (Kraushöhle, Austria)


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Publication Date

October 2012


Whereas most karstic caves worldwide are formed by carbonic acid, a small but significant number of sub-surface cavities are the product of sulfuric acid speleogenesis (SAS). In the Eastern Alps, no cave has so far been attributed to this type. In this multidisciplinary study we demonstrate that Kraushöhle in northern Styria was indeed formed by SAS. The cave pattern shows individual chambers, 3D-mazes and blind galleries, as well as typical SAS morphologies such as cupolas, gypsum replacement pockets, corrosion notches and convection niches. “Ceiling pendant drip holes” are described here for the first time and these corrosion features are fully consistent with the SAS model. Other features of Kraushöhle include thick gypsum deposits with strongly depleted δ34S values and other minerals – mostly sulfates – indicating highly acidic conditions. We also studied acid–rock interaction processes giving rise to widespread corrosion and concomitant replacement by gypsum. Petrographic and geochemical analyses reveal the presence of a distinctive alteration layer of highly increased porosity at the interface between the host limestone and the secondary gypsum. Dissolution and replacement of the limestone was fast enough to prevent the development of C and O isotopic alteration halos but resulted in selective leaching of elements. This stable isotope signal is thus different from the pronounced isotope gradient comm observed in CO2-dominated hypogenic caves. Petrographic observations reveal that the limestone–gypsum replacement was a nearly constant volume process.


Sulfuric Acid Speleogenesis, Cave Minerals, Cave Wall Alteration, Karst Geomorphology




Geomorphology, Vol. 169-170 (2012-10-01).