2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 92-5
Presentation Time: 9:25 AM


WONG, Corinne I., Earth and Environmental Science, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467 and BANNER, Jay, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, wongcw@bc.edu

Reconstructions of past variability in hydroclimate from speleothem δ18O records are commonly based on the idea that speleothem δ18O values directly reflect the δ18O values of precipitation. Understanding the way in which the cave and karst environment alters the isotopic composition of precipitation, therefore, is pertinent to distinguishing between climate and non-climate related speleothem δ18O variability. To address this, we present results from a long-term (>10 years) cave-monitoring project in which samples of Austin-area rainfall and Natural Bridge Caverns cave drip water were routinely collected (~4 to 6 weeks) over an interval spanning several cycles of drought and above average wet conditions. This study focuses on samples collected from two drip sites (NBSB and NBWS) that are interpreted to be supplied by conduit flow paths that should be the most sensitive to climatic variability. Drip water δ18O values at two conduit drip sites exhibit a ranged of 2.6‰ (from -5.2 to -2.6‰), although the difference between 1st and 3rd quartiles is only 0.4‰. Drip water δ18O variability is muted relative to rainfall δ18O variability, which ranges from -12.6‰ to -2.8‰ with a difference between 1st and 3rd quartiles of 2.1‰. The average drip water δ18O value of both sites (-4.3‰) is similar to the weighted average rainfall δ18O value (-4.2‰), and the correlation between drip water and rainfall δ18O values is poor (R2 of 0.18 and <0.01 for NBSB and NBWS, respectively). These results suggest that mixing of infiltrating water occurs within the vadose zone above the cave, which drives the homogenization of dripwater δ18O values. Furthermore, similarity between average dripwater δ18O values and weighted average rainfall δ18O values suggests that dripwater δ18O are not biased toward a particular season or affected by evaporation, as both processes would result in an offset between dripwater and rainfall δ18O values. Overall, our result suggests that speleothem δ18O values, in the absence of non-equilibrium fractionation, do not preserve high-resolution (e.g., seasonal, inter-annual) variations in rainfall δ18O values, and, instead, likely reflect long-term (e.g., multi-decadal, centennial) shifts in average rainfall δ18O values.