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Characterization of black deposits in karst caves, examples from Slovenia

Abstract

Karst caves are important tourism and natural heritage destinations. Within dry cave passages otherwise notable for their rich flowstone decoration, areas with a characteristic black color can sometimes be observed on cave walls and floors and on speleothems. To determine the origin of these black deposits, mineralogical and chemical analyses were carried out in two caves (Postojna Cave and Črna Jama (Kočevje), Slovenia). Qualitative chemical composition was obtained by scanning electron microscopy in conjunction with energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM/EDS). Organic matter in black deposits was confirmed by the Walkley–Black (wet burning) and loss-on-ignition (LOI, dry burning) methods. Results showed that black deposits from the caves studied could be attributed to natural and anthropogenic causes. Natural causes are related to Mn–Fe oxide precipitation and are probably dependent on microorganism activity. Anthropogenic sources are related to historic (or/and prehistoric) human activities such as cave visitors using torches and fires, events outside the caves such as forest and settlement fires, and recent air pollution. Black deposits show the effect of long-term environmental impact on karst caves and could be included in guided tours of show caves along with a scientific explanation of their causes and origin.

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Acknowledgments

This study was performed within the Karst Research Programme (P6-0119), project Measurements and Analysis of Selected Climatic Parameters in Karst Caves: Example of the Postojna Cave System (L6-2156), project Assessment of natural and anthropogenic processes in micrometeorology of the Postojna cave system by numerical models and modern methods of data acquisition and transfer (L2-6762), research programme Mineral resources (P1-0025), Paleontology and sedimentary geology (P1-0008), and IGCP Project 567 Earthquake Archaeology. Thanks are due to Postojnska jama d.d. for allowing us to take samples in Postojna Cave and to Dr. Helena Grčman (University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty, Department of Agronomy, Chair of Soil Science and Environmental Protection) for the organic matter analyses. All samples were collected by permission of the Nova Gorica unit of the National Nature Conservation Institute (Zavod Republike Slovenije za varstvo narave). We are thankful to Hugh Brown for revising the English and to reviewers for constructive comments and useful suggestions, which improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Stanka Šebela.

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Šebela, S., Miler, M., Skobe, S. et al. Characterization of black deposits in karst caves, examples from Slovenia. Facies 61, 6 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10347-015-0430-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10347-015-0430-z

Keywords

  • Black deposits
  • Mineralogy
  • Chemical composition
  • Karst caves
  • Slovenia