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Origin and morphology of limestone caves

Arthur N. Palmer
Origin and morphology of limestone caves
Geological Society of America Bulletin (January 1991) 103 (1): 1-21


Limestone caves form along ground-water paths of greatest discharge and solutional aggressiveness. Flow routes that acquire increasing discharge accelerate in growth, while others languish with negligible growth. As discharge increases, a maximum rate of wall retreat is approached, typically about 0.01-0.1 cm/yr, determined by chemical kinetics but nearly unaffected by further increase in discharge. The time required to reach the maximum rate is nearly independent of kinetics and varies directly with flow distance and temperature and inversely with initial fracture width, discharge, gradient, and P (sub CO2) . Most caves require 10 (super 4) - 10 (super 5) yr to reach traversable size. Their patterns depend on the mode of ground-water recharge. Sinkhole recharge forms branching caves with tributaries that join downstream as higher-order passages. Maze caves form where (1) steep gradients and great undersaturation allow many alternate paths to enlarge at similar rates or (2) discharge or renewal of undersaturation is uniform along many alternate routes. Flood water can form angular networks in fractured rock, anastomotic mazes along low-angle partings, or sponge-work where intergranular pores are dominant. Diffuse recharge also forms networks and spongework, often aided by mixing of chemically different waters. Ramiform caves, with sequential outward branches, are formed mainly by rising thermal or H (sub 2) S-rich water. Dissolution rates in cooling water increase with discharge, CO (sub 2) content, temperature, and thermal gradient, but only at thermal gradients of more than 0.01 degrees C/m can normal ground-water CO (sub 2) form caves without the aid of hypogenic acids or mixing. Artesian flow has no inherent tendency to form maze caves. Geologic structure and stratigraphy influence cave orientation and extent, but alone they do not determine branch-work versus maze character.

ISSN: 0016-7606
EISSN: 1943-2674
Serial Title: Geological Society of America Bulletin
Serial Volume: 103
Serial Issue: 1
Title: Origin and morphology of limestone caves
Author(s): Palmer, Arthur N.
Affiliation: State Univ. N.Y., Coll. at Oneonta, Dep. Earth Sci., Oneonta, NY, United States
Pages: 1-21
Published: 199101
Text Language: English
Publisher: Geological Society of America (GSA), Boulder, CO, United States
References: 78
Accession Number: 1991-001841
Categories: GeomorphologyHydrogeology
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus. incl. 1 table, sketch maps
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2019, American Geosciences Institute.
Update Code: 1991
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