Abstract

Variations in growth rates of speleothem calcite have been hypothesized to reflect changes in a range of paleoenvironmental variables, including atmospheric temperature and precipitation, drip-water composition, and the rate of soil CO2 delivery to the subsurface. To test these hypotheses, we quantified growth rates of modern speleothem calcite on artificial substrates and monitored concurrent environmental conditions in three caves across the Edwards Plateau in central Texas. Within each of two caves, different drip sites exhibit similar annual cycles in calcite growth rates, even though there are large differences between the mean growth rates at the sites. The growth-rate cycles inversely correlate to seasonal changes in regional air temperature outside the caves, with near-zero growth rates during the warmest summer months, and peak growth rates in fall through spring. Drip sites from caves 130 km apart exhibit similar temporal patterns in calcite growth rate, indicating a controlling mechanism on at least this distance. The seasonal variations in calcite growth rate can be accounted for by a primary control by regional temperature effects on ventilation of cave-air CO2 concentrations and/or drip-water CO2 contents. In contrast, site-to-site differences in the magnitude of calcite growth rates within an individual cave appear to be controlled principally by differences in drip rate. A secondary control by drip rate on the growth rate temporal variations is suggested by interannual variations. No calcite growth was observed in the third cave, which has relatively high values of and small seasonal changes in cave-air CO2. These results indicate that growth-rate variations in ancient speleothems may serve as a paleoenvironmental proxy with seasonal resolution. By applying this approach of monitoring the modern system, speleothem growth rate and geochemical proxies for paleoenvironmental change may be evaluated and calibrated.

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