Depth and timing of calcite spar and “spar cave” genesis: Implications for landscape evolution studies
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Caves and Karst Across Time
Calcite spar (crystals >1 cm in diameter) are common in limestone and dolostone terrains. In the Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico and west Texas, calcite spar is abundant and lines small geode-like caves. Determining the depth and timing of formation of these large scalenohedral calcite crystals is critical in linking the growth of spar with landscape evolution. In this study, we show that large euhedral calcite crystals precipitate deep in the phreatic zone (400–800 m) in these small geode-like caves (spar caves), and we propose both are the result of properties of supercritical CO2 at that depth. U-Pb dating of spar crystals shows that they formed primarily between 36 and 28 Ma. The 87Sr/86Sr values of the euhedral calcite spar show that the spar has a significantly higher 87Sr/86Sr (0.710–0.716) than the host Permian limestone (0.706–0.709). This indicates the spar formed from waters that are mixed with, or formed entirely from, a source other than the surrounding bedrock aquifer, and this is consistent with hypogene speleogenesis at significant depth. In addition, we conducted highly precise measurements of the variation in nonradiogenic isotopes of strontium, 88Sr/86Sr, expressed as δ88Sr, the variation of which has previously been shown to depend on temperature of precipitation. Our preliminary δ88Sr results from the spar calcite are consistent with formation at 50–70 °C. Our first U-Pb results show that the spar was precipitated during the beginning of Basin and Range tectonism in a late Eocene to early Oligocene episode, which was coeval with two major magmatic periods at 36–33 Ma and 32–28 Ma. A novel speleogenetic process that includes both the dissolution of the spar caves and precipitation of the spar by the same speleogenetic event is proposed and supports the formation of the spar at 400–800 m depth, where the transition from supercritical to subcritical CO2 drives both dissolution of limestone during the main speleogenetic event and precipitation of calcite at the terminal phase of speleogenesis. We suggest that CO2 is derived from contemporaneous igneous activity. This proposed model suggests that calcite spar can be used for reconstruction of landscape evolution.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Decker, David D.; Polyak, Victor J.; and Asmerom, Yemane, "Depth and timing of calcite spar and “spar cave” genesis: Implications for landscape evolution studies" (2016). KIP Articles. 6884.