Climate monitoring in the Caumont cave and quarry system (northern France) reveal near oxygen isotopic equilibrium conditions for carbonate deposition

Ingrid Bejarano-Arias*, Carole Nehme, Sebastian F.M. Breitenbach, Hanno Meyer, Sevasti Modestou, Damase Mouralis

*Corresponding author for this work

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The study of modern cave deposits forming under near isotopic equilibrium conditions can potentially help disentangle the processes influencing the oxygen isotope system and suitability of stalagmites as archives of past hydrological or thermal changes. We used cave monitoring to evaluate the impact of kinetic isotope fractionation and assess the conditions under which modern cave carbonates form in the Caumont cave and quarry system, located in Normandy, northwest France. Over 20 months, we collected climatological data, dripwater, and modern carbonate samples at 2–4-week intervals at three different stations inside the Caumont cave and quarry system. We find highly stable (10.4 ± 0.3°C – 11.3 ± 0.1°C) temperature in the deeper sections of the Caumont cave and quarry system. The temporal dynamics of δ18Odrip indicates that the drip water composition in Caumont reflects the original (though subdued) signal of precipitation, rather than the impact the seasonal to interannual cave air temperature has on isotopic fractionation. The monitoring reveals that δ13C of modern carbonate is influenced by prior carbonate precipitation that occurs during the summer season when evapotranspiration can minimize effective infiltration. Comparison of δ18O from dripwater and modern calcite, precipitated on glass plates and collected every two to four weeks, reveals that modern calcite forms near oxygen isotope equilibrium. A Hendy test on modern carbonate deposited on a stalagmite-shaped glass flask over 20 months confirms this finding because neither does δ13C increase with distance from the apex, nor are δ13C and δ18O positively correlated. We conclude that the δ13C signal in speleothems reflect summer (and longer-term) prior carbonate precipitation in response to effective infiltration dynamics, and that the δ18O signal likely reflects annual to multi-annual changes in the composition of precipitation above the cave.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-23
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Speleology
Issue number1
Early online date5 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

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