A detailed chronology for four stalagmites from three central Texas caves separated by as much as 130 km provides a 71 000-yr record of temporal changes in hydrology and climate. Mass spectrometric 238U-230Th and 235U-231Pa analyses have yielded 53 ages. The accuracy of the ages and the closed- system behavior of the speleothems are indicated by interlaboratory comparisons, concordance of 230Th and 231Pa ages, and the result that all ages are in correct stratigraphic order. Over the past 71 000 yr, the stalagmites have similar growth histories with alternating periods of relatively rapid and slow growth. The growth rates vary over more than two orders of magnitude, and there were three periods of rapid growth: 71–60 ka, 39–33 ka, and 24–12 ka. These growth-rate shifts correspond in part with global glacial-interglacial climatic shifts.
Paleontological evidence indicates that around the Last Glacial Maximum (20 ka), climate in central Texas was cooler and wetter than at present. This wetter interval corresponds with the most recent period of increased growth rates in the speleothems, which is consistent with conditions necessary for speleothem growth. The temporal shift in wetness has been proposed to result from a southward deflection of the jet steam due to the presence of a continental ice sheet in central North America. This mechanism also may have governed the two earlier intervals of fast growth in the speleothems (and inferred wetter climate). Ice volumes were lower and temperatures in central North America were higher during these two earlier glacial intervals than during the Last Glacial Maximum, however. The potential effects of temporal variations in precession of Earth's orbit on regional effective moisture may provide an additional mechanism for increased effective moisture coincident with the observed intervals of increased speleothem growth. The stalagmites all exhibit a large drop in growth rate between 15 and 12 ka, and they show very slow growth up to the present, consistent with drier climate during the Holocene. These results illustrate that speleothem growth rates can reflect the regional response of a hydrologic system to regional and global climate variability.