Clumped isotope thermometry of cryogenic cave carbonates

Tobias Kluge, Hagit P. Affek, Yi Ge Zhang, Yuri Dublyansky, Christoph Spötl, Adrian Immenhauser, Detlev K. Richter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Freezing of cave pool water that is increasingly oversaturated with dissolved carbonate leads to precipitation of a very specific type of speleothems known as cryogenic cave carbonates (CCC). At present, two different environments for their formation have been proposed, based on their characteristic carbon and oxygen isotope ratios. Rapidly freezing thin water films result in the fast precipitation of fine-grained carbonate powder (CCCfine). This leads to rapid physicochemical changes including CO2 degassing and CaCO3 precipitation, resulting in significantly 13C-enriched carbonates. Alternatively, slow carbonate precipitation in ice-covered cave pools results in coarse crystalline CCC (CCCcoarse) yielding strongly 18O-depleted carbonate. This is due to the formation of relatively 18O-enriched ice causing the gradual depletion of 18O in the water from which the CCC precipitates.Cryogenic carbonates from Central European caves were found to have been formed primarily during the last glacial period, specifically during times of permafrost thawing, based on the oxygen isotope ratios and U-Th dating. Information about the precise conditions of CCCcoarse formation, i.e. whether these crystals formed under equilibrium or disequilibrium conditions with the parent fluid, however, is lacking. An improved understanding of CCCcoarse formation will increase the predictive value of this paleo-permafrost archive.Here we apply clumped isotopes to investigate the formation conditions of cryogenic carbonates using well-studied CCCcoarse from five different cave systems in western Germany. Carbonate clumped isotope measurements yielded apparent temperatures between 3 and 18°C and thus exhibit clear evidence of isotopic disequilibrium. Although the very negative carbonate δ18O values can only be explained by gradual freezing of pool water accompanied by preferential incorporation of 18O into the ice, clumped isotope-derived temperatures significantly above expected freezing temperatures indicate incomplete isotopic equilibration during precipitation of CCC.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)541-554
Number of pages14
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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