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Early Pennsylvanian (309–318 Ma) paleocave sediments hosted in the Mississippian (345–359 Ma) Leadville Limestone were partly derived from long-distance (>2000 km) source areas. In addition to showing the importance of long-distant dust transport in cave sediments, because these paleocave deposits are derived from loess, their presence may document the earliest terrestrial signature of the late Paleozoic ice age in North America.

The Leadville Limestone was subject to karst processes following late Mississippian eustatic sea-level fall, including formation of phreatic tubes, breakout domes, tower karst (kegelkarst), solution valleys (poljes), sinkholes (dolines), solution-enhanced joints (grikes), surficial flutes (rillenkarren), and solution pans (kamenitzas). In the Leadville Limestone, speleothems are interbedded with karst breccias and fluvial cave sediments.

The overlying Pennsylvanian Molas Formation is a loessite (eolian siltstone) composed of angular quartz silt with ferruginous kaolinite rims. The U-Pb ages of accessory zircons indicate that the source areas for the eolian silt are from the peri-Gondwanan terranes and Grenville Province of eastern and southern North America, which are ~2000 km to the east. There is also a provenance signature from the rising Ancestral Rocky Mountains. The evidence suggests dust trapping on land surfaces by paleokarst topography, moisture, and vegetation. Weak paleosols in the Molas Formation suggest relatively rapid rates of dust accumulation. The high porosity and low bulk density of modern loess soils make them susceptible to groundwater piping. This mechanism may have facilitated redeposition of the Molas Formation loess into karst passageways, to be remobilized by later hydrologic events.

The paleocave sediments in the Leadville Limestone can be linked to the overlying loess in the Molas Formation by compositional and textural matches. Facies analysis of the paleocave sediments documents episodic hydrologic events, producing a sequence of inundites and debrites separated by mud drapes with mud cracks. These event deposits are interbedded with flowstones and dripstones.

Cave sediments are increasingly utilized as archives of geologic change. Recognition that dust is a significant component of cave sediments highlights the inherited properties from distant source areas, land-atmosphere transfer processes, land-surface deposition processes, and resedimentation processes into the karst system.

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