International Journal of Earth Sciences

, Volume 99, Issue 5, pp 1027–1049 | Cite as

Factors controlling present-day tufa dynamics in the Monasterio de Piedra Natural Park (Iberian Range, Spain): depositional environmental settings, sedimentation rates and hydrochemistry

  • M. Vázquez-Urbez
  • C. ArenasEmail author
  • C. Sancho
  • C. Osácar
  • L. Auqué
  • G. Pardo
Original Paper


The tufa record and hydrochemical characteristics of the River Piedra in the Monasterio de Piedra Natural Park (NE Spain) were studied for 6 years. The mean discharge of this river was 1.22 m3/s. The water was supersaturated with calcium carbonate. The HCO3 , Ca2+ and TDIC concentrations decreased along the 0.5-km-long studied stretch, whereas the calcite SI showed no systematic downstream or seasonal variation over the same stretch. Several sedimentary subenvironments exist in which four broad types of tufa facies form: (1) Dense laminated tufa (stromatolites), (2) Dense to porous, massive tufa, (3) Porous, coarsely laminated tufa with bryophytes and algae, and (4) Dense, hard, laminated deposits in caves. The half-yearly period thickness and weight of sediment accumulated on 14 tablets installed in several subenvironments showed that the deposition rate was greater in fast flowing river areas and in stepped waterfalls, and lower in slow flowing or standing river areas and in spray and splash areas. Mechanical CO2 outgassing is the main factor controlling calcite precipitation on the river bed and in waterfalls, but this process does not explain the seasonal changes in depositional rates. The deposition rates showed a half-yearly period pattern recorded in all fluvial subenvironments persistent over time (5.26 mm, 0.86 g/cm2 in warm periods; 2.26 mm, 0.13 g/cm2 in cool periods). Mass balance calculations showed higher calcite mass values in warm (21.58 mg/L) than in cool (13.68 mg/L) periods. This biannual variation is mainly attributed to the seasonal differences in temperature that caused changes in inorganic calcite precipitation rate and in biomass and the correlative photosynthetic activity. Tufa sedimentation was therefore controlled by both physicochemical and biological processes. The results of this study may help test depositional rates and their environmental controls and thus assess the climatic and hydrological significance of ancient tufas in semi-arid conditions, in particular in the Quaternary.


Modern fluvial tufas Depositional environmental settings Deposition rates Hydrochemistry NE Spain 



We are grateful to the Monasterio de Piedra Park management and staff who allowed and facilitated the field work. This work was funded by project REN3575/CLI of the Spanish Government and European Regional Development Fund, and forms part of the activities of the Continental Sedimentary Basin Analysis Group (Aragón Government). We thank Dr. Elías for identifying the Bryophytes, the Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro for providing data on water discharge, and the departments of SEM of the Universities of Barcelona and Zaragoza. The reviewers are thanked for their suggestions to improve the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Vázquez-Urbez
    • 1
  • C. Arenas
    • 1
    Email author
  • C. Sancho
    • 2
  • C. Osácar
    • 3
  • L. Auqué
    • 4
  • G. Pardo
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Stratigraphy, Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of ZaragozaZaragozaSpain
  2. 2.Division of Geomorphology, Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of ZaragozaZaragozaSpain
  3. 3.Division of Mineralogy and Crystallography, Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of ZaragozaZaragozaSpain
  4. 4.Division of Petrology and Geochemistry, Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of ZaragozaZaragozaSpain

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