Stable isotope variations in modern tropical speleothems: Evaluating equilibrium versus kinetic isotope effects.

Patrick J. Mickler
Jay L. Banner
Libby Stern

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Applications of speleothem calcite geochemistry in climate change studies require the evaluation of the accuracy and sensitivity of speleothem proxies to correctly infer paleoclimatic information. The present study of Harrison’s Cave, Barbados, uses the analysis of the modern climatology and groundwater system to evaluate controls on the C and O isotopic composition of modern speleothems. This new approach directly compares the δ18O and δ13C values of modern speleothems with the values for their corresponding drip waters in order to assess the degree to which isotopic equilibrium is achieved during calcite precipitation. If modern speleothems can be demonstrated to precipitate in isotopic equilibrium, then ancient speleothems, suitable for paleoclimatic studies, from the same cave environment may also have been precipitated in isotopic equilibrium. If modern speleothems are precipitated out of isotopic equilibrium, then the magnitude and direction of the C and O isotopic offsets may allow specific kinetic and/or equilibrium isotopic fractionation mechanisms to be identified.