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Speleology of gypsum caves in Oklahoma

Abstract

The gypsum caves of western Oklahoma are situated in three separate areas of evaporite karst: (1) the Cimarron Gypsum Hills, in the northwest, along the Cimarron River; (2) the Weatherford Gypsum Hills, in west-central Oklahoma, to the north of the Wichita Mountains; and (3) the Mangum Gypsum Hills, in the southwest, west of the Wichita Mountains. Caves of the Cimarron Gypsum Hills and the Mangum Gypsum Hills are developed in the alternating dolomite, gypsum/anhydrite, and shale beds of the Permian Blaine Formation. Ranging from natural bridges to extensive cave systems, the largest is the 10km of passages in Jester Cave in the Mangum Gypsum Hills. Cave passages formed in the normally paired gypsum and dolomite beds exhibit narrow (1.5–5 m wide), sinuous, canyon-like profiles. The development of broader passages, with widths from 5 m to more than 35 m, involve the shale beds. Some are bedding-plane passages with extremely low ceilings, whereas others are comfortable, walking-height passages with ceilings from 3–15 m high. The Blaine Formation, in the area of humanly mappable cave development, is from 12 m to approximately 50 m thick. The caves drain the bluffs/escarpments and normally end in karst spring resurgences. Roof collapse often modifies these resurgences into breakdown mazes. The Weatherford Gypsum Hills caves are formed in the Permian Cloud Chief Formation. The Cloud Chief gypsum is chalkier than the Blain gypsums and the resultant cave development is more segmented, ranging from natural bridges (1.5–15 m in length) to cave segments (locally referred to as “tunnels”) that are tens of meters to more than one kilometer in length. These caves exhibit very little vertical development, and none of the bedding-plane development found in the Blaine Formation.

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Correspondence to John Bozeman.

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Bozeman, J., Bozeman, S. Speleology of gypsum caves in Oklahoma. Carbonates Evaporites 17, 107–113 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03176475

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Keywords

  • Shale
  • Dolomite
  • Gypsum
  • Evaporite
  • Oklahoma City