Limestone and speleothem trace element geochemistry as tools for palaeoclimatic reconstruction, Mount Etna region, central-coastal Queensland

Deer, Linda Nicole (2011) Limestone and speleothem trace element geochemistry as tools for palaeoclimatic reconstruction, Mount Etna region, central-coastal Queensland. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This study investigated potential palaeoclimate proxies provided by rare earth element (REE) geochemistry in speleothems and in clay mineralogy of cave sediments. Speleothem and sediment samples were collected from a series of cave fill deposits that occurred with rich vertebrate fossil assemblages in and around Mount Etna National Park, Rockhampton (central coastal Queensland). The fossil deposits range from Plio- Pleistocene to Holocene in age (based on uranium/thorium dating) and appear to represent depositional environments ranging from enclosed rainforest to semi-arid grasslands. Therefore, the Mount Etna cave deposits offer the perfect opportunity to test new palaeoclimate tools as they include deposits that span a known significant climate shift on the basis of independent faunal data. The first section of this study investigates the REE distribution of the host limestone to provide baseline geochemistry for subsequent speleothem investigations. The Devonian Mount Etna Beds were found to be more complex than previous literature had documented. The studied limestone massif is overturned, highly recrystallised in parts and consists of numerous allochthonous blocks with different spatial orientations. Despite the complex geologic history of the Mount Etna Beds, Devonian seawater-like REE patterns were recovered in some parts of the limestone and baseline geochemistry was determined for the bulk limestone for comparison with speleothem REE patterns. The second part of the study focused on REE distribution in the karst system and the palaeoclimatic implications of such records. It was found that REEs have a high affinity for calcite surfaces and that REE distributions in speleothems vary between growth bands much more than along growth bands, thus providing a temporal record that may relate to environmental changes. The morphology of different speleothems (i.e., stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones) has little bearing on REE distributions provided they are not contaminated with particulate fines. Thus, baseline knowledge developed in the study suggested that speleothems were basically comparable for assessing palaeoclimatically controlled variations in REE distributions. Speleothems from rainforest and semi-arid phases were compared and it was found that there are definable differences in REE distribution that can be attributed to climate. In particular during semiarid phases, total REE concentration decreased, LREE became more depleted, Y/Ho increased, La anomalies were more positive and Ce anomalies were more negative. This may reflect more soil development during rainforest phases and more organic particles and colloids, which are known to transport REEs, in karst waters. However, on a finer temporal scale (i.e. growth bands) within speleothems from the same climate regime, no difference was seen. It is suggested that this may be due to inadequate time for soil development changes on the time frames represented by differences in growth band density. The third part of the study was a reconnaissance investigation focused on mineralogy of clay cave sediments, illite/kaolinite ratios in particular, and the potential palaeoclimatic implications of such records. Although the sample distribution was not optimal, the preliminary results suggest that the illite/kaolinite ratio increased during cold and dry intervals, consistent with decreased chemical weathering during those times. The study provides a basic framework for future studies at differing latitudes to further constrain the parameters of the proxy. The identification of such a proxy recorded in cave sediment has broad implications as clay ratios could potentially provide a basic local climate proxy in the absence of fossil faunas and speleothem material. This study suggests that REEs distributed in speleothems may provide information about water throughput and soil formation, thus providing a potential palaeoclimate proxy. It highlights the importance of understanding the host limestone geochemistry and broadens the distribution and potential number of cave field sites as palaeoclimate information no longer relies solely on the presence of fossil faunas and or speleothems. However, additional research is required to better understand the temporal scales required for the proxies to be recognised.

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ID Code: 49797
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Webb, Gregory, Cox, Malcolm, & Gust, David
Keywords: limestone, speleothem, geochemistry, palaeoclimatic reconstruction, Mount Etna, Queensland
Divisions: Past > Schools > Biogeoscience
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 19 Apr 2012 05:30
Last Modified: 19 Apr 2012 05:30

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