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Department of Earth Sciences

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Baldini, J.U.L., McDermott, F. & Fairchild, I.J. (2006). Spatial variability in cave drip water hydrochemistry: Implications for stalagmite paleoclimate records. Chemical Geology 235(3-4): 390-404.

Author(s) from Durham


The identification of vadose zone hydrological pathways that
most accurately transmit climate signals through karst aquifers to
stalagmites is critical for accurately interpreting climate proxies
contained within individual stalagmites. A three-year cave drip
hydrochemical study across a spectrum of drip types in Crag Cave, SW
Ireland, reveals substantial variability in drip hydrochemical behaviour.
Stalagmites fed by very slow drips (< 0.1 ml/min) may best retain
information regarding decadal- through millennial-scale climate because
the drip sites' diffuse recharge minimizes interferences to the long-term
pattern produced by isolated meteorological events. Additionally,
hydrological routing shifts did not influence these very slow drips.
Intermediate flow regimes (0.1?2 ml/min) are apparently most sensitive to
water excess, and may best preserve a paleoseasonality signal because of a
combination of rapid stalagmite growth, seasonally responsive drip rates,
and minimal interferences from stochastic processes within the aquifer.
Stochastic drip-rate variability existed at several high-discharge (> 2
ml/min) sites, apparently unconnected with local meteorological events.
Water from these drips was typically undersaturated with respect to
calcite, and thus did not result in calcite deposition. Data presented
here suggest that drips in this flow regime also experience flow
re-routing and blocking, and that any stalagmites developed under such
drips are unsuitable as mid- to high-resolution paleoclimate proxies. Most
drip sites demonstrated seasonal [Ca2+] and [Mg2+] variability that was
probably linked to water excess. Prior calcite precipitation along the
flowpath affected the chemistry of slowly dripping sites, while dilution
predominantly controlled the water chemistry of the more rapidly dripping
sites. This research underscores the importance of understanding drip
hydrology prior to selecting stalagmites for paleoclimate analysis and
before interpreting any subsequent proxy data.


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