Sulfuric acid speleogenesis (SAS) close to the water table: Examples from southern France, Austria, and Sicily


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January 2016


Caves formed by rising sulfuric waters have been described from all over the world in a wide variety of climate settings, from arid regions to mid-latitude and alpine areas. H2S is generally formed at depth by reduction of sulfates in the presence of hydrocarbons and is transported in solution through the deep aquifers. In tectonically disturbed areas major fractures eventually allow these H2S-bearing fluids to rise to the surface where oxidation processes can become active producing sulfuric acid. This extremely strong acid reacts with the carbonate bedrock creating caves, some of which are among the largest and most spectacular in the world. Production of sulfuric acid mostly occurs at or close to the water table but also in subaerial conditions in moisture films and droplets in the cave environment. These caves are generated at or immediately above the water table, where condensation–corrosion processes are dominant, creating a set of characteristic meso- and micromorphologies. Due to their close connection to the base level, these caves can also precisely record past hydrological and geomorphological settings. Certain authigenic cave minerals, produced during the sulfuric acid speleogenesis (SAS) phase, allow determination of the exact timing of speleogenesis. This paper deals with the morphological, geochemical and mineralogical description of four very typical sulfuric acid water table caves in Europe: the Grotte du Chat in the southern French Alps, the Acqua Fitusa Cave in Sicily (Italy), and the Bad Deutsch Altenburg and Kraushöhle caves in Austria.


Sulfuric Acid Caves, Hypogenic Karst, Cave Morphology, Speleogenesis, Condensation–Corrosion

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Geomorphology, Vol. 253 (2016-01-15).