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Minerogenetic mechanisms occurring in the cave environment: an overview

Author(s): Onac Bogdan P. | Forti Paolo

Journal: International Journal of Speleology
ISSN 0392-6672

Volume: 40;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 79;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: cave minerals | mineralogy | processes | karst | lava tubes

Perhaps man’s first motivation to explore caves, beyond using them as shelter, was the search for substances that were not availableelsewhere: most of them were minerals. However, for a long time it was believed that the cave environment was not very interestingfrom the mineralogical point of view. This was due to the fact that most cave deposits are normally composed of a singlecompound: calcium carbonate. Therefore, the systematic study of cave mineralogy is of only recent origin. However, although onlya limited number of natural cavities have been investigated in detail, about 350 cave minerals have already been observed, someof which are new to science. The presence of such unexpected richness is a direct consequence of the variety of rocks traversedby water or other fluids before entering a cave and the sediments therein. Different cave environments allow the development ofvarious minerogenetic mechanisms, the most important of which are double exchange reactions, evaporation, oxidation, hydrationdehydration,sublimation, deposition from aerosols and vapors, and segregation. The cave temperature and pH/Eh strictly controlmost of them, although some are driven by microorganisms. The cave environment, due to its long-term stability, can sometimesallow for the development of huge euhedral crystals, such as those found in the Naica caves (Mexico), but the presence of extremelysmall yet complex aggregates of different minerals is far more common. Future development in the field of cave mineralogy will likelybe focused mainly on hydrothermal and sulfuric-acid caves and on the role played by micro-organisms in controlling some of the mostimportant minerogenetic processes in caves.
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