Abstract

Calcite moonmilk, which is a cave deposit formed of calcite crystals and water, is found in many caves in the Italian Alps. These modern and ancient deposits are formed of fiber calcite crystals, 50-500 nm wide and 1 to > 10 µm long, and polycrystalline chains that have few crystal defects. Radiocarbon dating indicates that most moonmilk deposits in these caves are fossil and that for most precipitation ceased ∼ 6400 cal years BP, at the end of the mid-Holocene Hypsithermal.

In the caves of the Italian Alps, the optimal conditions for formation of calcite moonmilk are: (1) a temperature range of 3.5-5.5°C, (2) low discharge volumes of seepage waters that are slightly supersaturated (SICAL = 0.0 to ∼ 0.2), and (3) relative humidity that is at or close to 100%. Microbial activity apparently did not play an active role in the formation of the calcite moonmilk. Conditions for moonmilk formation are typically found in caves that are located beneath land surfaces, which are soil covered and support a conifer forest. Precipitation of the fiber calcite crystals apparently involved very slow flow of slightly supersaturated fluids.

The fact that moonmilk appears to form under a narrow range of environmental conditions means that this cave deposit has potential as a paleoclimatic indicator in high alpine karst areas.

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