Journal of Cave and Karst Studies - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 62 Number 2: 127-134 - August 2000

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Geochemistry of Carlsbad Cavern pool waters, Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico
Jeffrey R. Forbes


Water samples collected from 13 pools in Carlsbad Cavern were analyzed to determine the concentrations of major ions. Air temperature, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide concentration of the cave atmosphere were also measured. Large differences in water quality exist among different cave pools, with some pools containing very fresh water, while others are brackish, with total dissolved solids concentrations up to 5000 mg/L. Brackish water pools appear to be associated with those portions of the cave where evaporation rates are high and/or soluble minerals are present. Geochemical speciation modeling showed that some pools are close to saturation with respect to the common cave minerals aragonite, calcite, gypsum, and hydromagnesite.

A tracer test was performed using a non-toxic bromide salt to estimate the leakage rates of selected pools. Pool volumes calculated based on dilution of the bromide tracer were up to 550 m³. The tracer test results were used to calculate mean residence times for the water in each pool. Calculated mean residence times based on bromide tracer loss rates ranged from less than a year for Rookery Pool and Devil’s Spring to 16 years for Lake of the Clouds. Calculated pool leakage rates ranged from 2 L/day to over 100 L/day. The pools with the highest leakage rates appear to be Rookery Pool, Green Lake, and Lake of the Clouds.

The long residence times indicated by the tracer tests suggest that the pools evaporate more water than they leak. However, evaporation should result in an accumulation of dissolved chloride and other solutes in the pools, which for most pools does not appear to be the case. Taken together, these observations suggest that the pools are recharged primarily by infrequent precipitation events, separated by long periods of slow evaporation and minimal leakage.

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