Speleothem calcite farmed in situ: Modern calibration of δ18O and δ13C paleoclimate proxies in a continuously-monitored natural cave system


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September 2011


Understanding the relationships between speleothem stable isotopes (δ13C δ18O) and in situ cave forcing mechanisms is important to interpreting ancient stalagmite paleoclimate records. Cave studies have demonstrated that the δ18O of inorganically precipitated (low temperature) speleothem calcite is systematically heavier than the δ18O of laboratory-grown calcite for a given temperature. To understand this apparent offset, rainwater, cave drip water, groundwater, and modern naturally precipitated calcite (farmed in situ) were grown at multiple locations inside Hollow Ridge Cave in Marianna, Florida. High resolution micrometeorological, air chemistry time series and ventilation regimes were also monitored continuously at two locations inside the cave, supplemented with periodic bi-monthly air gas grab sample transects throughout the cave. Cave air chemistry and isotope monitoring reveal density-driven airflow pathways through Hollow Ridge Cave at velocities of up to 1.2 m s−1 in winter and 0.4 m s−1 in summer. Hollow Ridge Cave displays a strong ventilation gradient in the front of the cave near the entrances, resulting in cave air that is a mixture of soil gas and atmospheric CO2. A clear relationship is found between calcite δ13C and cave air ventilation rates estimated by proxies pCO2 and 222Rn. Calcite δ13C decreased linearly with distance from the front entrance to the interior of the cave during all seasons, with a maximum entrance-to-interior gradient of Δδ13CCaCO3 = −7‰. A whole-cave “Hendy test” at multiple contemporaneous farming sites reveals that ventilation induces a +1.9 ± 0.96‰ δ13C offset between calcite precipitated in a ventilation flow path and calcite precipitated on the edge or out of flow paths. This interpretation of the “Hendy test” has implications for interpreting δ13C records in ancient speleothems. Calcite δ13CCaCO3 may be a proxy not for atmospheric CO2 or overlying vegetation shifts but also for changes in cave ventilation due to dissolution fissures and ceiling collapse creating and


Co2, Pco2, Radon-222, Speleothem, In Situ, Paleoclimate

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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Vol. 75, no. 17 (2011-09-01).