The impact of ventilation patterns on calcite dissolution rates within karst conduits

Journal of Hydrology
By: , and 



Erosion rates in streams vary dramatically over time, as differences in streamflow and sediment load enhance or inhibit erosion processes. Within cave streams, and other bedrock channels incising soluble rocks, changes in water chemistry are an important factor in determining how erosion rates will vary in both time and space. Prior studies in surface streams, springs, and caves suggest that variation in dissolved CO2 is the strongest control on variation in calcite dissolution rates. However, the controls on CO2 variation remain poorly quantified. Limited data suggest that ventilation of karst systems can substantially influence dissolved CO2 within karst conduits. However, the interactions among cave ventilation, air-water CO2 exchange, and dissolution dynamics have not been studied in detail. In this study, three years of time series measurements of dissolved and gaseous CO2, cave airflow velocity, and specific conductance from Blowing Springs Cave, Arkansas, were analyzed and used to estimate continuous calcite dissolution rates and quantify the correlations between those rates and potential physical and chemical drivers. We find that chimney effect airflow creates temperature-driven switches in airflow direction, and that the resulting seasonal changes in airflow regulate both gaseous and dissolved CO2 within the cave. As in previous studies, partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) is the strongest chemical control of dissolution rate variability. However, we also show that cave airflow direction, rather than streamflow, is the strongest physical driver of changes in dissolution rate, contrary to the typical situation in surface channel erosion where floods largely determine the timing and extent of geomorphic work. At the study site, chemical erosion is typically active in the summer, during periods of cave downdraft (airflow from upper to lower entrances), and inactive in the winter, during updraft (airflow from lower to upper entrances). Storms provide only minor perturbations to this overall pattern. We also find that airflow direction modulates dissolution rate variation during storms, with higher storm variability during updraft than during downdraft. Finally, we compare our results with the limited set of other studies that have examined dissolution rate variation within cave streams and draw an initial hypothesis that evolution of cave ventilation patterns strongly impacts how dissolution rate dynamics evolve over the lifetime of karst conduits.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The impact of ventilation patterns on calcite dissolution rates within karst conduits
Series title Journal of Hydrology
DOI 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2020.125824
Volume 593
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center
Description 125824, 17 p.
Country United States
State Arkansas, Missouri
City Bella Vista
Other Geospatial Blowing Springs Cave
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