Deposits of calcite coating the lower passages of Wind Cave in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota were precipitated under phreatic conditions. Data from samples associated with a new cave survey and hydrologic studies indicate that past water tables within Wind Cave reached a maximum height of 45 m above modern levels but were mostly confined to 25 m or less. Uranium-series ages for basal layers deposited on weathered wall rock indicate subaerial conditions in this part of the cave persisted between 1000 and 300 ka. Ages and elevations of wall coatings and cave rafts establish a 300,000 yr paleohydrograph indicating that water-table highstands occurred during interglacial or interstadial-to-early glacial periods and lowstands occurred during full-glacial and stadial episodes.
Isotopes of Sr, U, C, and O from dated calcite samples were obtained to evaluate potential shifts in paleo-groundwater composition. For comparison, Sr and U isotopic compositions were determined for modern groundwater from 18 sites previously classified into five hydrogeologic domains. Isotope data for different domains tend to cluster in separate fields, although several fields overlap. Compositions of Calcite Lake (informal name) water reflect modern recharge to shallow aquifers. In contrast, speleothem data indicate that paleo-groundwater highstands were not supported by increased infiltration associated with local recharge, or by upwelling from deeper Proterozoic sources. Instead, cave water was similar to deeper, warmer groundwater from the Madison Aquifer discharging at modern artesian springs flanking the southern Black Hills. Highstands were likely influenced by large-scale hydraulic processes associated with recharge to the Madison Aquifer under the Laurentide ice sheet on the northeast side of the Williston Basin, causing increased hydrostatic pressures in confined aquifers on the south side of the basin.