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Drip water electrical conductivity as an indicator of cave ventilation at the event scale

Smith, Andrew C.; Wynn, Peter M.; Barker, Philip A.; Leng, Melanie J.. 2015 Drip water electrical conductivity as an indicator of cave ventilation at the event scale. Science of The Total Environment, 532. 517-527. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.06.037

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Abstract/Summary

The use of speleothems to reconstruct past climatic and environmental change through chemical proxies is becoming increasingly common. Speleothem chemistry is controlled by hydrological and atmospheric processes which vary over seasonal time scales. However, as many reconstructions using speleothem carbonate are now endeavouring to acquire information about precipitation and temperature dynamics at a scale that can capture short term hydrological events, our understanding of within cave processes must match this resolution. Monitoring within Cueva de Asiul (N. Spain) has identified rapid (hourly resolution) changes in drip water electrical conductivity (EC), which is regulated by the pCO2 in the cave air. Drip water EC is therefore controlled by different modes of cave ventilation. In Cueva de Asiul a combination of density differences, and external pressure changes control ventilation patterns. Density driven changes in cave ventilation occur on a diurnal scale at this site irrespective of season, driven by fluctuations in external temperature across the cave internal temperature threshold. As external temperatures drop below those within the cave low pCO2 external air enters the void, facilitating the deposition of speleothem carbonate and causing a reduction in measured drip water EC. Additionally, decreases in external pressure related to storm activity act as a secondary ventilation mechanism. Reductions in external air pressure cause a drop in cave air pressure, enhancing karst air draw down, increasing the pCO2 of the cave and therefore the EC measured within drip waters. EC thereby serves as a first order indicator of cave ventilation, regardless of changes in speleothem drip rates and karst hydrological conditions. High resolution monitoring of cave drip water electrical conductivity reveals the highly sensitive nature of ventilation dynamics within cave environments, and highlights the importance of this for understanding trace element incorporation into speleothem carbonate at the event scale.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.06.037
ISSN: 00489697
Date made live: 23 Jun 2015 13:47 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/511114

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