Bedrock features of Lechuguilla Cave, Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico


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Journal of Cave and Karst Studies

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Lechuguilla is a hypogenic cave dissolved in limestones and dolostones of the Capitan Reef Complex by sulfuric acid derived from oil and gas accumulations in the Delaware Basin of southeast New Mexico and west Texas. Most of the cave developed within the Seven Rivers and Capitan Formations, but a few high level passages penetrate the lower Yates Formation. The Queen and possibly Goat Seep formations are exposed only in the northernmost part of the cave below -215 m. Depositional and speleogenetic breccias are common in Lechuguilla. The cave also has many spectacular fossils that are indicators of depositional environments. Primary porosity in the Capitan and Seven Rivers Formations was a reser- voir for water containing hydrogen sulfide, and a pathway for oxygenated meteoric water prior to and during sulfuric acid speleogenesis. Many passages at depths >250 m in Lechuguilla are in steeply dip- ping breccias that have a west-southwest orientation parallel to the strike of the shelf margin. The cor- relation between passage orientation and depositional strike suggests that stratigraphy controls these passages.

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