Seasonal trace-element and stable-isotope variations in a Chinese speleothem: The potential for high-resolution paleomonsoon reconstruction


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January 2006


We report the presence of clear annual cycles in trace-element (Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca, Ba/Ca, and U/Ca) and stable-isotope (δ18O and δ13C) composition in an annually banded stalagmite from Heshang Cave, Hubei Province, China (30.44°N, 110.42°E). Through a combination of micromilling and in situ analysis (LA–MC–ICPMS), we measured geochemical variations across 16 annual growth bands, to assess their potential as seasonal resolution paleomonsoon proxies. To facilitate comparison with modern climatic and environmental data we created composite annual cycles for each proxy by stacking 6 well-defined years. Speleothem δ18O variations (− 10.8‰ to − 8.5‰) are controlled by seasonal variations in temperature and drip-water δ18O which lead to maximum values during May, around the time of summer monsoon onset. This provides a chronological marker which can be used to constrain the timing of the other geochemical cycles. The composite cycles reveal a strong positive correlation between Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca, Ba/Ca, and δ13C values in the micromilled section (R2 = 0.65–0.98), with minimum values occurring around May. Maximum U/Ca values occur at the same time. We present simple models which show that these correlations, as well as the observed ranges of Mg/Ca (14.1 to 22.4 mmol/mol), Sr/Ca (0.2 to 0.4 mmol/mol), and δ13C (− 12.5‰ to − 10.7‰), may be fully explained by progressive CO2 degassing and calcite precipitation from an initially saturated solution. Using realistic initial conditions for Heshang Cave (T = 18 °C, Mg/Casolution = 0.84 mol/mol, Sr/Casolution = 0.69 mmol/mol, δ13CTDIC = − 16.75‰), we find that the observed relationships can be produced by using DMg = 0.016 and DSr = 0.30, within the range of expected values. The model suggests that the fraction of Ca removed from the solution ranges from 0 to 30% to produce the observed seasonal cycles. This variation may be due to two related processes which occur during drier periods: (1) increased prior precipitation of calcite in the epikarst or on the cave ceiling, and/or (2) a greate


Speleothem, Asian Monsoon, Paleoclimate, Carbonates, Trace Elements, Geochemistry, Stable Isotopes

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Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Vol. 244, no. 1,2 (2006).