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Featured article from geoscience journal

Hydrological Processes, 2010, Vol 24, Issue 21, p. 3101-3114
Epikarst hydrology and implications for stalagmite capture of climate changes at Grotta di Ernesto (NE Italy): results from long-term monitoring
Abstract:

Grotta di Ernesto is a cave site well suited for palaeoclimate studies because it contains annually laminated stalagmites and was monitored from 1995 to the end of 2008 for microclimate, hydrology and hydrochemistry. Long-term monitoring highlighted that cave drips show three different hydrological responses to rainfall and infiltration: (1) fast seasonal drips in the upper part of the cave, which are mostly fed by fractures, (2) slow seasonal drips, located at mid-depth in the cave characterized by mixed feeding and (3) slow drips, mostly located in the deeper gallery, which are fed by seepage flow from bulk porosity with a minor fracture-fed component. The slow drips display daily cycles during spring thaw. Monitoring also indicated that drip waters are only slightly modified by degassing within the soil zone and aquifer and by prior calcite precipitation. Hydrochemical studies show a clear seasonality in calcite saturation index, which results in most cave calcite precipitation occurring during late autumn and winter with similar amounts of precipitated calcite on most stalagmites, regardless of drip rate (discharge) differences. Drip rate, and drip rate variability, therefore, has a minor role in modulating the amount of annual calcite formation. In contrast, drip rate, when associated with moderate reduction in calcite saturation index, clearly influences stalagmite morphology. Increasing drip rate yields a passage from candle-, to cone- to dome-shaped stalagmites. Very high drip rates feed speleothems with flowstone morphology. In summary, monitoring provides information about the karst aquifer and how hydrology influences those physical and chemical characteristics of speleothems which are commonly used as climate proxies.