I‐STAL, a model for interpretation of Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca and Ba/Ca variations in speleothems and its forward and inverse application on seasonal to millennial scales


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January 2012


[1] Trace element ratios Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca, and Ba/Ca are readily measured in speleothems and may be closely related to hydrological balance, enhancing paleoclimate information inferred from stable isotope measurements. We develop a model which simulates the variation in dripwater chemistry resulting from variable degree of water‐rock interaction and prior calcite precipitation (PCP), with the latter process depending both on drip interval and drip oversaturation with respect to CaCO3. Partition coefficients between speleothem and dripwater are dependent on temperature for Mg and on speleothem growth rate for Sr and Ba, as observed in laboratory experiments. The drip oversaturation state, regulated both by cave pCO2 and the dilution and soil karst dissolution processes, strongly affects stalagmite trace element concentrations by modulating the extent of PCP and speleothem growth rates. Application of an inverse model confirms that seasonal CO2 cycles can explain the uncorrelated seasonal cycles in Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca observed in our speleothem records from NW Spain for which high CO2 coincides with dry season. In absence of seasonal variations in drip interval, cycles in cave pCO2 can produce seasonal covariation in Sr/Ca, Mg/Ca and Ba/Ca. In long time series (104 yr) where seasonal sampling resolution is not obtained in stalagmites, a change from dominance of summer to winter rainfall can shift the season of strongest stalagmite deposition to one of lower mean CO2 and hence greater PCP and higher Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca and Ba/Ca ratios. Caves best suited to record a dominantly water balance signal, such as mean drip intervals, are those with minimal seasonal variation in cave pCO2.


Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca, Paleoclimate, Speleothem, Trace Element

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Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, Vol. 13, no. 9 (2012).