Calibration of the calcite–water oxygen-isotope geothermometer at Devils Hole, Nevada, a natural laboratory


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January 2007


The δ18O of ground water (−13.54 ± 0.05 ‰) and inorganically precipitated Holocene vein calcite (+14.56 ± 0.03 ‰) from Devils Hole cave #2 in southcentral Nevada yield an oxygen isotopic fractionation factor between calcite and water at 33.7 °C of 1.02849 ± 0.00013 (1000 ln αcalcite–water = 28.09 ± 0.13). Using the commonly accepted value of ∂(αcalcite–water)/∂T of −0.00020 K−1, this corresponds to a 1000 ln αcalcite–water value at 25 °C of 29.80, which differs substantially from the current accepted value of 28.3. Use of previously published oxygen isotopic fractionation factors would yield a calcite precipitation temperature in Devils Hole that is 8 °C lower than the measured ground water temperature. Alternatively, previously published fractionation factors would yield a δ18O of water, from which the calcite precipitated, that is too negative by 1.5 ‰ using a temperature of 33.7 °C. Several lines of evidence indicate that the geochemical environment of Devils Hole has been remarkably constant for at least 10 ka. Accordingly, a re-evaluation of calcite–water oxygen isotopic fractionation factor may be in order. Assuming the Devils Hole oxygen isotopic value of αcalcite–water represents thermodynamic equilibrium, many marine carbonates are precipitated with a δ18O value that is too low, apparently due to a kinetic isotopic fractionation that preferentially enriches 16O in the solid carbonate over 18O, feigning oxygen isotopic equilibrium.

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