Hypogenic caves develop by recharge from below, not directly influenced by seepage from the overlying land surface. Several processes of speleogenesis are combined, involving CO2 or H2S produced at depth. If the recharge from depth remains uniform, the growth of selected fissures is prevented, giving rise to maze cave systems with an upward development trend, which is defined as “transverse speleogenesis” [Klimchouk, 2003]. Hypogenic caves are much fewer than epigenic caves (i.e. developed downwards by meteoric water with aggressivity derived from soil). In France, as in the rest of the world, hypogenic caves were poorly recognized until recently because of their lower frequency, subsequent epigenic imprint often hiding the true origin, and the absence of a global conceptual model. However, about a hundred of hypogenic caves have been identified recently in France. The extreme diversity of hypogenic cave patterns and features is due to the variety of geological and topographic settings and types of flow.
Thermal caves are a sub-set of hypogenic caves. Active thermal caves are few and small (Mas d’En Caraman, Vallon du Salut). Often, thermal influences only occur as point thermal infeeders into epigenic caves (Mescla, Estramar). In addition to the higher temperature, they may be characterized by CO2 (Madeleine) or H2S degassing, by warm water flowing in ceiling channels, or by manganese deposits. The Giant Phreatic Shafts locate along regional active faultlines. They combine all characteristics (thermal, CO2, H2S), due to the fast rising of deep water. The Salins Spring has been explored by scuba diving down to −70 m. Such a hyperkarstification is responsible for the development of the deepest phreatic shafts of the world: pozzo del Merro, Italy (−392 in).
Inactive hypogenic caves may be recognized by their specific mineralization or by the presence of large calcite spar. Metallic deposits are due to the rising of deep waters that are warm, aggressive, and low in oxidation potential. Mixing with meteoric water generates Mississippi Valley Type (MVT) sulfidic ores. Iron deposits as massive bodies (Lagnes) or onto microbial media (Iboussières, Malacoste) making specific facies, such as “black tubes”, iron flakes, and iron pool fingers. Other frequent minerals are Mn oxides and Pb sulfur. In such low thermal conditions, calcite deposits occur as large spar in geodes or as passage linings.
Other inactive hypogenic caves may also be recognized by characteristic patterns, such as mazes. The relatively constant recharge into confined karst aquifers suppresses fissure competition, so they enlarge at similar rates, producing a maze pattern. In horizontal beds, mazes extend centrifugally around the upwelling feeder. The juxtaposition of multiple discrete vertical feeders produces extended horizontal mazes. In gently tilted structures, 2D mazes extend below aquitards, or along bedding or more porous beds (Saint-Sébastien). In thick folded limestone the rising hypogenic flow alternatively follows joints and bedding planes, producing a 3D maze cave in a staircase pattern (Pigette). Isolated chambers are large cupola-like chambers fed by thermal slots. Thermal convection of air in a CO2-rich atmosphere causes condensation-corrosion that quickly produces voids above the water table (Champignons Cave).
Sulfuric acid caves with replacement gypsum are produced by H2S degassing in the cave atmosphere. H2S oxidizes to H2SO4, which corrodes the carbonate rock and replaces it with gypsum. The strongest corrosion occurs above the water table, where sulfide degassing and thermal convection produce strong condensation-corrosion. Caves develop headward from springs and from thermo-sulfuric slots upward (Chevalley-Serpents System). The low-gradient main drains record base-level positions and even the slightest stages of water-table lowering (Chat Cave).
Hypogenic speleogenesis provides better understanding of the distribution of karst voids responsible for subsidence hazards and the emplacement of minerals and hydrocarbons.