5 years ago

Constraining the subsoil carbon source to cave-air CO2and speleothem calcite in central Texas

Canonical models for speleothem formation and the subsurface carbon cycle invoke soil respiration as the dominant carbon source. However, evidence from some karst regions suggests that belowground CO2 originates from a deeper, older source. We therefore investigated the carbon sources to central Texas caves. Drip-water chemistry of two caves in central Texas implies equilibration with calcite at CO2 concentrations (PCO2_sat) higher than the maximum CO2 concentrations observed in overlying soils. This observation suggests that CO2 is added to waters after they percolate through the soils, which requires a subsoil carbon source. We directly evaluate the carbon isotope composition of the subsoil carbon source using δ13C measurements on cave-air CO2, which we independently demonstrate has little to no contribution from host rock carbon. We do so using the oxidative ratio, OR, defined as the number of moles of O2 consumed per mole of CO2 produced during respiration. However, additional belowground processes that affect O2 and CO2 concentrations, such as gas-water exchange and/or diffusion, may also influence the measured oxidative ratio, yielding an apparent OR (ORapparent). Cave air in Natural Bridge South Cavern has ORapparent values (1.09±0.06) indistinguishable from those expected for respiration alone (1.08±0.06). Pore space gases from soils above the cave have lower values (ORapparent =0.67±0.05) consistent with respiration and gas transport by diffusion. The simplest explanation for these observations is that cave air in NB South is influenced by respiration in open-system bedrock fractures such that neither diffusion nor exchange with water influence the composition of the cave air. The radiocarbon activities of NB South cave-air CO2 suggest the subsoil carbon source is hundreds of years old. The calculated δ13C values of the subsoil carbon source are consistent with tree-sourced carbon (perhaps decomposing root matter), the δ13C values of which have shifted during industrialization due to changes in the δ13C values and concentrations of atmospheric CO2. Seasonal variations in PCO2_sat in most of the drip waters suggest that these waters exchange with ventilated bedrock fractures in the epikarst, implying that the subsoil CO2 source contributes carbon to speleothems.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0016703717304982

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