A global model for cave ventilation and seasonal bias in speleothem paleoclimate records


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January 2015


Cave calcite deposits (speleothems) provide long and continuous records of paleoenvironmental conditions in terrestrial settings. Typical environmental proxy measurements include speleothem growth rate and variations in elemental and isotope geochemistry. Commonly the assumption is made that speleothems grow continuously and at a constant rate throughout the year. However, seasonal variation of growth rate may be the rule in many caves. Here we apply observations of modern calcite growth and cave‐air CO2 concentrations and a model of factors controlling cave ventilation to construct a global model predicting where cave calcite growth may be seasonal. Previous models and measurements of calcite precipitation in caves demonstrate the retardation of speleothem growth by high cave‐air CO2. Elevated CO2 is commonly dissipated by ventilation driven by density differences between cave and surface air. Seasonal cycles in atmospheric temperature, pressure, and humidity commonly drive these density contrasts. Modeling these changes latitudinally and globally indicates a geographic control on seasonal cave ventilation and thus on a principal controlling factor of speleothem growth. The model predicts that given constant water, calcium, and CO2 inputs, speleothems from temperate to boreal continental regions commonly accumulate more calcite in the cool season and less or none in the warm season. These models predict that proxies from temperate to boreal speleothems may be seasonally biased due to seasonal ventilation, whereas tropical and maritime records should not.


Speleothem, Cave, Ventilation, Co2

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Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, Vol. 16, no. 4 (2015).