Abstract

Travertine forming at Lorusio Hot Springs in the northern Kenya Rift is constructed mainly by lilypads and ledges. The lilypads are flat, accretionary structures rooted to the substrate that are composed mostly of platy calcite crystals. They grow outward from a nucleus, subparallel to the water surface, at or just below the air-water interface. Precipitation results from rapid degassing of CO2. Ledges, which have a similar morphology and internal structure, are attached to the margin of a spring pool or outflow channel. As they grow laterally, lilypads and ledges may coalesce with their neighbours to produce thin (1-3 cm) beds of travertine, examples of which are exposed in subfossil deposits at the site. Once established, lilypads and ledges modify the outflow and can act as substrates for precipitation of other minerals and colonization by microbes on their cooler subaerial surfaces. Pore fluids are drawn upward through the lilypads by capillary evaporation. Amorphous silica then precipitates as surficial crusts upon microbial mats or forms spicular microstromatolites, some of which also contain calcite laminae. Efflorescent Na-CO3 salts commonly encrust the drier central platforms of the exposed lilypad. The unusual abundance of lilypads and ledges at Lorusio reflects (i) the low-relief setting and the hydrostatic head, which limit terrace development, and (ii) the high temperature (>75°C) of the waters, which inhibits colonization by microbial mats at crystal growth sites. Similar structures form in cave pools, evaporating brines, and freezing water at sites where precipitation is induced by several processes active at the air-water interface.

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