International Journal of Earth Sciences

, Volume 98, Issue 3, pp 665–676 | Cite as

Identifying low-temperature hydrothermal karst and palaeowaters using stable isotopes: a case study from an alpine cave, Entrische Kirche, Austria

  • Christoph SpötlEmail author
  • Yuri Dublyansky
  • Michael Meyer
  • Augusto Mangini
Original Paper


The area south of the prominent east–west trending Salzach Valley at the northern rim of the Central Alps of Austria has long been known to host anomalously warm springs emerging from a highly deformed calcite marble (Klammkalk). This unit also hosts cavities whose shapes suggest a hydrothermal karst origin and which are lined by calcite spar. We report here petrographic and isotopic evidence suggesting that dissolution by ascending low-temperature thermal waters also played an important role in the origin of a large cave in this region, Entrische Kirche. A paleo cave wall, preserved behind a thick flowstone in the interior of this cave, revealed a brownish bleaching zone which contrasts to the medium grey colour of the unaltered marble beneath. Across this zone the C and O isotope values gradually decrease by 3 and 11‰, respectively. These compositions are very different from those of the speleothem above but are similar to phreatic calcite spar from hydrothermal karst cavities in other outcrops in the area, where the absence of two-phase fluid inclusions suggests a low-temperature (less than ca. 50°C) hydrothermal origin. U/Th dating of the flowstone capping the alteration zone yielded a minimum age of the thermal water invasion in Entrische Kirche of ca. 240 kyr. There is no evidence in Entrische Kirche that these palaeowaters reached the point of calcite precipitation, but it is physically conceivable that higher and as yet unexplored parts of this deep (ca. 900 m) cave contain cavities lined by phreatic cave spar.


Hydrothermal karst Stable isotopes Cave Water/rock interaction Austria 



The Amt der Salzburger Landesregierung, Abteilung Naturschutz granted permission to study and sample speleothems for Entrische Kirche. We are grateful to R. Erlmoser and E. Frank for their help in the cave, to J. Reiterer, J. Kaml and J. Ratgeb for kindly providing samples, to W. Gadermayr for discussion and useful hints, to M. Wimmer for preparing the samples for isotopic analysis, to R. Bakker for his help with the fluid-inclusion analyses, to editor W.-C. Dullo and an anonymous referee for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript and to the FWF for financial support (grants Y122-GEO and P18207-N10).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christoph Spötl
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yuri Dublyansky
    • 1
  • Michael Meyer
    • 1
  • Augusto Mangini
    • 2
  1. 1.Institut für Geologie und PaläontologieUniversität InnsbruckInnsbruckAustria
  2. 2.Forschungsstelle RadiometrieHeidelberger Akademie der WissenschaftenHeidelbergGermany

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