High-resolution Monitoring of Yok Balum Cave , Belize : An Investigation of Seasonal Ventilation Regimes and the Atmospheric and Drip-flow Response to a Local Earthquake


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January 2015


The nature of cave ventilation is of interest to cavers, speleologists, and paleoclimatologists working with stalagmites. Because cave ventilation systematics may change over the growth span of a stalagmite, understanding what factors affect them is critical for determining events that may have affected climate proxies within the stalagmite. Similarly, understanding how the hydrology of the drips feeding a stalagmite evolves through time is key to building robust records of paleoclimate, particularly because stalagmite records have become critical archives of climate change information of the last 500,000 years. Here we present data from an extensive, on-going monitoring effort at Yok Balum Cave, Belize, initiated in 2011, that characterizes high-resolution ventilation dynamics at this site. Clear seasonal ventilation regimes exist, driven by thermally induced inside-outside air density differences. The winter regime is dominated by air inflow into the cave, decreased drawdown from the epikarst into the cave, and a limited diurnal signal. Conversely, summer ventilation is dominated by air outflow from the cave, greater CO2 drawdown and drip water degassing, and a strong diurnal signal. Active monitoring during a large (M7.4) earthquake in November 2012 provides a unique opportunity to assess the response of the cave atmosphere and hydrology to substantial seismic activity. Cave atmosphere dynamics and hydrology are found to be highly resilient to seismic activity, with no observable disturbance occurring around the earthquake, despite there being considerable evidence of physical disruption in the cave. Monitoring included different kinds of drips, and the earthquake affected none of the monitored drip types. This suggests that stalagmite-derived paleoclimate records are not affected by seismic activity, except in extreme cases where the stalagmite or conjugate stalactite is damaged or reoriented.

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Journal Cave Karst Stud, Vol. 77, no. 3 (2015).