Evidence for Microbial Involvement in Pool Finger Precipitation, Hidden Cave, New Mexico
Although speleothems are usually considered inorganic precipitates, recent work has demonstrated hitherto unsuspected biogenic influence in some twilight areas. We have expanded this notion to the dark zone, examining pool fingers from Hidden Cave, New Mexico, to test for possible bacterial involvement. The pool fingers in Hidden Cave are pendant speleothems that formed subaqueously in paleo-pools. They are 1 to 4 cm in diameter and 5 to 50 cm long. A knobby, irregular external shape is underlaid by a layered interior on two scales, a 0.5 to 1.0 cm alternation between dense and porous layers and a mm-scale alternation between dark micritic calcite and clear dogtooth spar. The micrite is similar to microbialites identified in modern and ancient carbonates. Fossil bacteria were found in all layers. These include (1) calcified filaments 1 w m in diameter and 5–50 w m long and (2) micro-rods 0.1 w m by 1–2 w m. Most filaments are curved rods with a smooth surface but rare examples display a diamond crosshatch surface. The micro-rods occur as isolated crystals to dense meshes. We interpret the micro-rods as calcified bacilliform bacteria and the filaments as calcified filamentous bacteria. Carbon isotopic data are slightly more negative (by - 0.5 to - 1.0% in micritic layers than in dogtooth spar layers, suggesting a greater microbial influence in the micritic layers. Based on these similarities to known microbialites (e.g., petrographic fabrics, the presence of fossil bacteria, and the suggestive carbon isotopic data), we conclude that microbial activity was an intimate part of pool finger formation in Hidden Cave. The significance of such involvement goes beyond speleological contexts to wider questions of identification of biosignatures in rocks on earth and beyond.