Geochemistry of speleothem records from southern Illinois: Development of (234U)/(238U) as a proxy for paleoprecipitation

Chemical Geology
By: , and 



Natural waters universally show fractionation of uranium series (U-series) parent-daughter pairs, with the disequilibrium between 234U and 238U (234U)/(238U) commonly used as a tracer of groundwater flow. Because speleothems provide a temporal record of geochemical variations in groundwater precipitating calcite, (234U)/(238U) variations in speleothems provide a unique method of investigating water-rock interaction processes over millennium time scales. We present high precision Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometric (TIMS) U-series analyses of speleothems and drip waters from Fogelpole Cave in southern Illinois. Data from all speleothems from the cave show an inverse correlation between (234U)/(238U) and U concentration, following the pattern observed in groundwaters globally. Within a 65-cm-long stalagmite, concordant 234U-238 U-230Th and 235U-231Pa ages for 5 samples indicate accurate chronology from 78.5 ka to 30 ka. Notably, (234U)/(238U)o which differs from most speleothems by having (234U)/(238U)o <1, positively correlates with speleothem growth rate. We generalize this to the observation that speleothems globally show (234U)/ (238U)o deviating farther from secular equilibrium at lower growth rates and approaching secular equilibrium at higher grow rates. Based on the Fogelpole observations, we suggest that groundwater (234U)/(238U) is controlled by the U oxidation state, the U concentration of the water and the fluid velocity. A transport model whereby U-series nuclides react and exchange with mineral surfaces can reproduce the observed trend between growth rate and (234U)/(238U)o. Based on this result, we suggest that (234U)/(238U)o in speleothems may record changes in hydrologic flux with time and thus could provide a useful proxy for long term records of paleoprecipitation. ?? 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Geochemistry of speleothem records from southern Illinois: Development of (234U)/(238U) as a proxy for paleoprecipitation
Series title Chemical Geology
DOI 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2005.02.005
Volume 221
Issue 1-2
Year Published 2005
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Chemical Geology
First page 1
Last page 20