A whole new concept on how formations form???

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A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Ernie Coffman » Oct 6, 2008 12:27 pm

Just noted, this article should get everyone to thinking about how cave formations are formed. The whole new concept of this scientist should spark some discussion on what's been happening...at least in Missouri--"The Show Me and Cave State." http://www.economist.com:80/science/dis ... d=12332931 :yikes:
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Phil Winkler » Oct 6, 2008 1:14 pm

That seems quite a stretch in logic to me.

Many have wondered about that cracked formation in Cedar Ridge Crystal Cave; it seems to have been caused by an earthquake.
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A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Ernie Coffman » Oct 6, 2008 2:07 pm

I agree with you Phil; and, that's why I thought it might generate some discussion. Maybe we'll hear from Theresa (aka as) in Missouri, where this all started from. :shrug:
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Evan G » Oct 6, 2008 2:27 pm

I'm curious myself, I just did a door to door trip in Crevice and to my knowledge it is very close to the New Madrid Fault.
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Rick Brinkman » Oct 6, 2008 4:25 pm

I don't see what the problem is guys. Seems logical to me.

Earthquake happens causing a new crack in the ceiling. Water starts flowing down the new crack forming a line of stalagmites on the floor. You date the stalagmites - telling you approximately when the ceiling crack formed.

If a bunch of ceiling cracks happened at the same time, especially in multiple caves, you probably have an earthquake event.

Personally, I think it's a pretty cool idea.
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby wyandottecaver » Oct 6, 2008 7:02 pm

The thing that screams out at me is that I think radio isotope dates have an accuracy interval in hundreds of years, not "happened in 1811". But maybe this is a more precice technique.
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Phil Winkler » Oct 7, 2008 8:49 am

The accuracy of radioisotope dating is a hugely controversial topic and pits the evolutionists against the creationists, among others. However, it is clear that saying calcite was deposited in 1811 is simply ridiculous. :roll:

Just google "How accurate is radioisotope dating?" and have a look.
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby John Lovaas » Oct 7, 2008 8:54 am

Here's a weblink to the GSA abstract-

http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/we ... 47945.html

It looks like they are correlating the young formations with weather records, and the older formations using U-T dating. Then they are correlating those dates with dates determined from other seismic activity markers- sand blows, etc.

I got an email a year or two ago asking for assistance in identifying broken speleothems and other possible sign of tectonic activity in caves near the New Madrid; Ira Sasowsky and/or his students(I believe) were looking at cave features functioning as indicators of past seismic activity. I thought there was a post on the forum about it, but I can't find it. There's a pillar in Equality Cave, IL that has sheared nicely in a horizontal plane; if I recall, Equality sits on top of several faults, so it'd be hard to say which fault is the culprit, or when it happened, I suppose.

I can appreciate the correlation between the speleothem dates and the other seismic dating methods- but without the other dates(sand blows, etc.), I think it would be tricky to point at a speleothem's age and go, "there was a seismic event at date X". I suppose most all limestone caves have some kind of tectonic origin- there has to be some kind of crack or fissure that water(or sulfuric acid, or -?) follows and enlarges. Same thing goes with the saturated waters that form formations- it's following a joint or fissure that has some kind of tectonic origin, I reckon.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was the Flying Noodle Monster landing with a mighty thud upon the earth's surface ;-)
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Ralph E. Powers » Oct 7, 2008 1:57 pm

Rick Brinkman wrote:I don't see what the problem is guys. Seems logical to me.

Earthquake happens causing a new crack in the ceiling. Water starts flowing down the new crack forming a line of stalagmites on the floor. You date the stalagmites - telling you approximately when the ceiling crack formed.

If a bunch of ceiling cracks happened at the same time, especially in multiple caves, you probably have an earthquake event.

Personally, I think it's a pretty cool idea.

I'm not a geologist nor a scientist by any measure but I like to think I know enough about the growth rates of speleothems to know that just by counting the rings like you do with a tree, you get a number to how old they are in years. Having seen caves out in the western desert areas of Utah and comparing them to the caves here in TAG of comparative sizes it's probably a sure bet that the ones in Utah are a LOT older than the ones in TAG. Mainly because of the amount of water flow on the surface to trickle down through those cracks. In the mountain areas where there's an annual snow fall of several feet or more, sure the resultant snow melt creates enough water flow to perc through the rock and add on to the speleothem in question... but that will only last as long as the snow melt and then it's pretty dry except for the occasional rain. Out in the desert there's almost no snow fall at all or if there is it's usually evaporated up instead of seeping down. Yet some of the desert caves do sport some impressive speleothems.
From what geologist friends have told me that at one time those mountains were under water and enough so that the water table got pushed up along with the mountains thus resulting in the growth... but once it got pushed up above the water table then the growth slowed dramatically or halted altogether but they're still fantastically old because they were formed at an earlier time frame than say the ones out east.
Here in TAG it rains quite a bit more than out there so there's always a fresh supply of water creating speleothems and encouraging rapid growth. But of course the ceiling has to be higher up off the water table for anything to happen. One hydrodynamic cave in Utah has large borehole passages and canyons but no speleothems to speak of. Was told (again by geo-knowledgeable cavers) that it's because the cave floods floor to ceiling annually and thus they get washed/worn down before having a chance to grow. Am thinking that eventually we'll start seeing speleothems in this (and the sister cave near by) sometime soon... geologically speaking... like say... oh, 1000 years from now.

Like to see proof positive of this guy's theory before accepting it... but it's a good one and :shrug: he might be right and I'm just talking out of my arse. :rofl:
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby ggpab » Oct 7, 2008 6:31 pm

Hi everyone,

I do happen to work with paleoenvironmental records from karst regions and from speleothems. This is a great abstract and the work looks promising.

There are a good number of published research papers providing paleoseismic records from speleothems. I would say that this research focus is about 30 years in the going (although some very early work goes back ~100 years) and the field is largely dominated by European researchers focused on the Mediterranean basin and/or the alps. There is also some new work from the last 2-3 years now coming out of China. The focus so far (again from my memory) has been on tilted and even broken stalagmites and/or fallen stalactites. What the researchers here are doing that is new is looking at the very first deposition of the calcite and linking that to opening up of new fractures and therefore assumed to be new drip points. They do not appear to be looking at broken speleothems as most everyone else has done before.

Having read the published abstract from the GSA, this looks like interesting and good work. They do say that they are working with a sample set of 60 and they list 15 age determinations they have so far (which would have been in June when the abstract were due). They are only a quarter of the way through their data so this should mature into a very nice piece of work.

They do not actually say that they are assuming that the earthquake is causing new fracturing.
I would suggest there is a weakness in saying that the new stalagmites must start from drips from newly created cracks and fissures in the ceiling. Earthquakes are also really good at tilting and shifting blocks of the earth. Even a 1 degree tilt would be more than enough to change the drip point on the ceiling. Tilt a cave a slight bit and you could go from having a soda straw with a stalagmite beneath it, to having a strip of bacon with a new tiny stalagmite just started even several feet away from the original drip point. Does it absolutely have to be that the earthquake opened a new crack ? Not necessarily. Would the earthquake have change/altered the drip points including possibly opening up new fractures? Almost certainly.

John Lovaas wrote:It looks like they are correlating the young formations with weather records, and the older formations using U-T dating.


There is no mention of using climate/weather records at least in the abstract. Uranium/Thorium (U/Th) dating is really quite good. The +/- standard deviation data they are providing is also most likely to 2 (TWO) standard deviations as that is the common practice with U/Th dates. The reason they have to resort to counting laminations for the young ones is that there is often not enough uranium in the sample to get a good date for less than say 1000 years. Besides, counting to 200 is not that big a deal.

I would mention that the laminations in speleothems are very often much thinner than what you can see with your naked eye and often require special light to see. Some speleothems, even from areas with snow melt and other nice seasonal factors, simply are not laminated no matter how they are examined. The rock between the surface and the cave acts as a big reservoir and smooths out the seasonal fluctuations to the drip points. What you most often see with your eyes are lines in the speleothem are actually much bigger events, like periods of time when the whole stalagmite stops growing, or the cave was flooding leaving mud on the calcite, or the forest above the cave burnt down letting alot of sediment come down from the surface, etc. Bruce Railsback provides a great atlas on speleothem imagery at http://www.gly.uga.edu/speleoatlas/SAindex1.html Some of the images do a great job at showing just how subtle the laminations are - http://www.gly.uga.edu/speleoatlas/SAimage0227.html

John Lovaas wrote:I can appreciate the correlation between the speleothem dates and the other seismic dating methods- but without the other dates(sand blows, etc.), I think it would be tricky to point at a speleothem's age and go, "there was a seismic event at date X".


Actually it is the reverse. The U/Th dates from the speleothems are most likely WAY more accurate and precise than any date generated for the sand blows, etc. The U/Th dates are the gold standard.

John Lovaas wrote:I suppose most all limestone caves have some kind of tectonic origin


You get nice fracturing from all sorts of non-tectonic processes, such as isostatic rebound and flexing of whole regions when glaciers melt which is happening throughout the great lakes basin right now, you get shrinkage when carbonate become more dense as they mature (think of mud cracks here), you can get pressure cracking when additional sediments are loaded on top of one part of a region and not another (think of the sediments of the Mississippi river delta causing regional stress patterns), etc etc. So yes, there is of course some reason why the fracturing happens, but no it does not need to be related to plate tectonics.

Sorry for the long discussion - this is a great topic!
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Squirrel Girl » Oct 7, 2008 6:39 pm

ggpab wrote:Bruce Railsback provides a great atlas on speleothem imagery at http://www.gly.uga.edu/speleoatlas/SAindex1.html Some of the images do a great job at showing just how subtle the laminations are - http://www.gly.uga.edu/speleoatlas/SAimage0227.html

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A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Ernie Coffman » Oct 8, 2008 8:04 am

This new article figures in on this discussion, from a West Virginia study: http://news.research.ohiou.edu/news/index.php?item=503 :cavingrocks:
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby John Lovaas » Oct 8, 2008 9:10 am

Hi Patricia-


John Lovaas wrote:It looks like they are correlating the young formations with weather records, and the older formations using U-T dating.


I should have said "perhaps" instead of "looks like". I assumed(and that's not good) that they'd have local or regional weather records to sync up to the laminations of the young formations; I imagine there'd be good data available for the "1917" formation. And I imagine it would be useful to look at the relationship.

When folks are counting laminations, how do they determine what time period each lamination represents? If each lamination represents 1 "deposition period", how is the length of that period defined? If I'm off topic here, I apologize- I guess I'm still ooking for an "Idiot's Guide to Paleochronology".

Besides, counting to 200 is not that big a deal.


In a guitar class I took this summer, the instructor had us count to 5 while maintaining a beat. It was really hard ;-) 200 would be impossible for me! ;-)



John Lovaas wrote:I can appreciate the correlation between the speleothem dates and the other seismic dating methods- but without the other dates(sand blows, etc.), I think it would be tricky to point at a speleothem's age and go, "there was a seismic event at date X".


Actually it is the reverse. The U/Th dates from the speleothems are most likely WAY more accurate and precise than any date generated for the sand blows, etc. The U/Th dates are the gold standard.


I agree- I see they have a plus/minus of 17 years on one of the samples.

I was just curious if it would be sufficient to have A) faults in the neighborhood of a cave, and B) dates from formations in the cave, and from A and B determine when there was seismic activity associated with the faults. Wouldn't it be good to have dates from "C"?

John Lovaas wrote:I suppose most all limestone caves have some kind of tectonic origin


You get nice fracturing from all sorts of non-tectonic processes, such as isostatic rebound and flexing of whole regions when glaciers melt which is happening throughout the great lakes basin right now, you get shrinkage when carbonate become more dense as they mature (think of mud cracks here), you can get pressure cracking when additional sediments are loaded on top of one part of a region and not another (think of the sediments of the Mississippi river delta causing regional stress patterns), etc etc. So yes, there is of course some reason why the fracturing happens, but no it does not need to be related to plate tectonics.


In my head, I had isostatic rebound as a kind of tectonic activity, so I'm not using the term correctly. I don't know squat about geology- I never even managed to take a class in college.
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby ggpab » Oct 8, 2008 9:57 am

Hi John,

John Lovaas wrote:When folks are counting laminations, how do they determine what time period each lamination represents? If each lamination represents 1 "deposition period", how is the length of that period defined? If I'm off topic here, I apologize- I guess I'm still looking for an "Idiot's Guide to Paleochronology".


It is generally assumed that each colour band is 1 year, and for many samples that works out just fine with only a few years in question over a few centuries. A small error margin. But does each band faithfully represent 1 deposition period? and can you have more than 1 deposition period in a year? Those are excellent research topics for a thesis. I have been monitoring the hydrochemistry of cave drips lately, and an additional questions I would love to have an answer for is if many 'annually laminated' speleothems actually have a bit of dissolution happening on the surface every year. What if that dissolution is enough to dissolved out a year or two of calcite? How do you know when you are missing material? Some of the samples do show that the laminations are cut across leaving only parts of them, suggesting there is dissolution too. These are big questions, and they are equally valid when dealing with lake and ocean sediments, ice cores, etc. It is not so much a problem with tree rings, but with trees you have the problem of just finding a bloody bit of 2000 year old wood that still exists. The power of the paleo records is when you line them all up and they all tell you the same thing. When you put them all together, then you can have very high confidence. That is one of the goals of the Inter-government panel on climate change - they are bringing all the information together from different and independent records and providing the concensus (which ain't pretty...).

The BCRA in the UK publishes a series of 20-40 page idiot guide booklets on various things including cave sediments, but I am not yet aware of anyone who has written anything like that for speleothems. I could see a title "Speleothems - What are they good for?". The problem is always getting us science geeks to talk without obfuscating the subject in jargon.

John Lovaas wrote:In a guitar class I took this summer, the instructor had us count to 5 while maintaining a beat. It was really hard ;-) 200 would be impossible for me! ;-)


Since the work is on thin sections under a microscope, you can take pictures of all the pieces and tape them together. You can then take a pen to the picture and mark the counts. I wouldn't want to do 200 in my head either.


John Lovaas wrote:I was just curious if it would be sufficient to have A) faults in the neighborhood of a cave, and B) dates from formations in the cave, and from A and B determine when there was seismic activity associated with the faults. Wouldn't it be good to have dates from "C"?


I was probably being too picky. I think there could be two equal interpretations
C.a. which would be that new faults opened up (seismic activity associated with the faults),
and
C.b. which would be that there was movement of the cave and the water trickling on the ceiling is just dripping from a slightly different point.


John Lovaas wrote:In my head, I had isostatic rebound as a kind of tectonic activity, so I'm not using the term correctly. I don't know squat about geology- I never even managed to take a class in college.


Well, the earth system is all interlinked. So yes in many cases you can have isostatic rebound causing seismic and tectonic activity with the earth plate being moved once some threshold limit is exceeded.
However isostatic rebound is not necessarily linked to seismic or tectonic activity. You can simply have significant rise/fall/tilt of the land surface.

Don't worry about the Geology 101 - the discussion here is way above where many many students manage to get! This is at least Geo 201 :-)

Wow, another long one.
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Re: A whole new concept on how formations form???

Postby Chads93GT » Oct 8, 2008 7:14 pm

There are lots of cracks in formations, ie pillars, in this area. Supposedly they are from the earthquake of 1811, since its not very far away. The ceilings in caves that i have been in near new madrid are strewn with cracks all over the place with stalactites hanging from it that are relatively small. quite possibly this theory holds true.

for this area.
Last edited by Chads93GT on Oct 29, 2008 11:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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