Journal of Cave and Karst Studies - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 63 Number 1: 23-32 - April 2001

A publication of the National Speleological Society

By-product materials relatied to H2S-H2SO4-influenced speleogenesis of Carlsbad, Lechuguilla, and other caves of the Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico
Victor J. Polyak and Paula Provencio


Carlsbad Cavern, Lechuguilla Cave, and other large caves of the Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico, contain minerals and amorphous materials derived as by-products from H2SO4 speleogenesis (process of cave formation influenced by sulfuric acid). These materials, referred to as “speleogenetic by-products,” are categorized as primary or secondary. Primary speleogenetic by-products are formed directly from H2SO4 speleogenesis by H2S-H2SO4 reaction with carbonate bedrock and internal sediments. They are found in cave areas protected from flood or drip waters. Secondary speleogenetic by-products are minerals and amorphous materials that formed by the alteration of the primary speleogenetic by-products, or by the late-stage remobilization of elements concentrated during speleogenesis. Primary speleogenetic by-products in these caves are gypsum, elemental sulfur, hydrated halloysite, alunite, natroalunite, jarosite, hydrobasaluminite, quartz, todorokite, rancieite, and amorphous silica and aluminum sulfates. Gypsum is the most abundant by-product, whereas alunite is the most significant because it can reveal the timing of speleogenesis. Aluminite, tyuyamunite, quartz, opal, and gypsum are secondary speleogenetic by-products. Other possible speleogenetic by-products are celestite, hydrous iron sulfates, gibbsite, nordstrandite, goethite and dolomite. The carbonate bedrocks in which the caves have formed are predominantly dolostone and limestone; mineral assemblages of these host rocks include calcite, dolomite, quartz, illite, dickite, kaolinite, interstratified illite/smectite, montmorillonite, and mica. The process of H2SO4 speleogenesis for Carlsbad Cavern and Lechuguilla Cave, and its by-products provide a general model for similar cave and non-cave systems worldwide.

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