Instrumenting Caves to Collect Hydrologic and Geochemical Data: Case Study from James Cave, Virginia

  • Madeline E. SchreiberEmail author
  • Benjamin F. Schwartz
  • William Orndorff
  • Daniel H. Doctor
  • Sarah D. Eagle
  • Jonathan D. Gerst
Part of the The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry book series (HEC, volume 33)


Karst aquifers are productive groundwater systems, supplying approximately 25 % of the world’s drinking water. Sustainable use of this critical water supply requires information about rates of recharge to karst aquifers. The overall goal of this project is to collect long-term, high-resolution hydrologic and geochemical datasets at James Cave, Virginia, to evaluate the quantity and quality of recharge to the karst system. To achieve this goal, the cave has been instrumented for continuous (10-min interval) measurement of the (1) temperature and rate of precipitation; (2) temperature, specific conductance, and rate of epikarst dripwater; (3) temperature of the cave air; and (4) temperature, conductivity, and discharge of the cave stream. Instrumentation has also been installed to collect both composite and grab samples of precipitation, soil water, the cave stream, and dripwater for geochemical analysis. This chapter provides detailed information about the instrumentation, data processing, and data management; shows examples of collected datasets; and discusses recommendations for other researchers interested in hydrologic and geochemical monitoring of cave systems. Results from the research, briefly described here and discussed in more detail in other publications, document a strong seasonality of the start of the recharge season, the extent of the recharge season, and the geochemistry of recharge.


Cave Dripwater Epikarst Karst Recharge Subsurface monitoring 



We extend our thanks to the Ferrell family of Pulaski County for graciously allowing us unfettered access to the cave. Funding for the James Cave project was provided by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, the US Geological Survey/National Institutes for Water Resources, the Cave Conservancy of the Virginias, the Geological Society of America, and the Virginia Tech Department of Geosciences. We thank Bev Shade and David Culver for discussions about study design and data collection, Don Rimstidt for geochemical insight, and Tom Malabad for conducting the cave survey. Helpful reviews were provided by MaryLynn Musgrove (USGS) and the editors of this volume. We are also extremely grateful to Stuart Hyde, Heather Scott, Sally Morgan, Nathan Farrar, Ariel Brown, Anna Hardy, Matthew Blower, and members of the VPI Cave Club for valuable assistance in the cave.


  1. 1.
    KWI (2003) What is karst and why is it important? Accessed 16 Oct 2014
  2. 2.
    Ford DC, Williams PW (2007) Karst hydrogeology and geomorphology. Wiley, Chichester, p 562CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bakalowicz MJ (2004) The epikarst, the skin of karst. In: Epikarst: Special Publication 9. Karst Waters Institute, Charles TownGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Pipan T, Christman MC, Culver DC (2006) Dynamics of epikarst communities: microgeographic pattern and environmental determinants of epikarst copepods in Organ Cave, West Virginia. Am Midl Nat 156(1):75–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Smart PL, Friederich H (1987) Water movement and storage in the unsaturated zone of a maturely karstified carbonate aquifer, Mendip Hills, England. In: Proceedings of the conference on environmental problems in Karst Terranes and their solutions October 1986, pp 59–87Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Tooth AF, Fairchild IJ (2003) Soil and karst aquifer hydrological controls on the geochemical evolution of speleothem-forming drip waters, Crag Cave, southwest Ireland. J Hydrol 273(1–4):51–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Fairchild IJ, Tuckwell GW, Baker A, Tooth AF (2006) Modelling of dripwater hydrology and hydrogeochemistry in a weakly karstified aquifer (Bath, UK): implications for climate change studies. J Hydrol 321(1–4):213–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Musgrove M, Banner JL (2004) Controls on the spatial and temporal variability of vadose dripwater geochemistry: Edwards Aquifer, central Texas. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 68(5):1007–1020CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Baker A, Barnes WL, Smart PL (1997) Variations in the discharge and organic matter content of stalagmite drip waters in Lower Cave, Bristol. Hydrol Process 11(11):1541–1555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Baldini JUL, McDermott F, Fairchild IJ (2006) Spatial variability in cave drip water hydrochemistry: implications for stalagmite paleoclimate records. Chem Geol 235(3–4):390–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Genty D, Baker A, Vokal B (2001) Intra- and inter-annual growth rate of modern stalagmites. Chem Geol 176(1):191–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Genty D, Deflandre G (1998) Drip flow variations under a stalactite of the Pere Noel cave (Belgium). Evidence of seasonal variations and air pressure constraints. J Hydrol 211(1–4):208–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Pape JR, Banner JL, Mack LE, Musgrove ML, Guilfoyle A (2009) Controls on oxygen isotope variability in precipitation and cave drip waters, central Texas, USA. J Hydrol 385(1–4):203–215Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Spötl C, Fairchild IJ, Tooth A (2005) Cave air control on dripwater geochemistry, Obir Caves (Austria): implications for speleothem deposition in dynamically ventilated caves. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 69(10):2451–2468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Baker A, Brunsdon C (2003) Non-linearities in drip water hydrology: an example from Stump Cross Caverns, Yorkshire. J Hydrol 277(3–4):151–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Mattey D et al (2006) Seasonal changes in the isotopic composition of cave air, water and speleothem calcite in new St. Michaels Cave, Gibraltar: unwanted noise or a tool for decoding speleothem climate records? KarstIV, The climate record, Baille Herculane, RomaniaGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Collister C, Mattey D (2008) Controls on water drop volume at speleothem drip sites: an experimental study. J Hydrol 358(3):259–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Shade B, Veni G (2005) Intensive monitoring of drip waters in two shallow caves. International Congress of Speleology, AthensGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Baker A, Ito E, Smart PL, McEwan RF (1997) Elevated and variable values of C-13 in speleothems in a British cave system. Chem Geol 136(3–4):263–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Fairchild IJ, Borsato A, Tooth AF, Frisia S, Hawkesworth CJ, Huang Y, McDermott F, Spiro B (2000) Controls on trace element (Sr-Mg) compositions of carbonate cave waters: implications for speleothem climatic records. Chem Geol 166(3–4):255–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Eagle SD (2013) Analysis of hydrologic and geochemical time series data at James Cave, Virginia: implications for Epikarst influence on recharge, M.Sc. Virginia Tech, BlacksburgGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Gerst JD (2013) Epikarst control on flow and storage at James Cave, VA: an analog for water resource characterization in the Shenandoah Valley karst, M.Sc. Virginia Tech, BlacksburgGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    SRCC (2014) Historical climate summaries for Virginia (cited 2014). Accessed 16 Oct 2014
  24. 24.
    Bartholomew MJ (1987) Structural evolution of the Pulaski thrust system, southwestern Virginia. Geol Soc Am Bull 99(4):491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Schultz AP, Bartholomew MJ (2009) Geologic map of the Radford North quadrangle, Virginia. In: Cross A, Campbell EVM (eds) Digital Open-File Report OFR-09-01. Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, CharlottesvilleGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    USDA-NRCS (2006) Web soil survey. Accessed 16 Oct 2014
  27. 27.
    Kazahaya K, Yasuhara M (1994) A hydrogen isotopic study of spring waters in Mt. Yatsugatake, Japan: application to groundwater recharge and flow processes. J Jpn Assoc Hydrol Sci 24:107–119Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Klimchouk A (2003) Towards defining, delimiting and classifying epikarst: its origin, processes and variants of geomorphic evolution. In: Epikarst. Karst Waters Institute, ShepherdstownGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Radtke DB et al (2012) Alkalinity and acid neutralizing capacity (version 4.0). In: Rounds SA (ed) National field manual for the collection of water-quality data: U.S. Geological Survey techniques of water-resources investigations. U.S. Geological Survey, RestonGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Révész KM, Doctor DH (2014) Automated determination of the stable carbon isotopic composition (δ 13C) of total dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and total nonpurgeable dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in aqueous samples: RSIL lab codes 1851 and 1852. In: Techniques and methods, book 10, Chapter: C20, U.S. Geological Survey, RestonGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Aquatic Informatics (2011) AQUARIUS 3.0 R3. 1032. VancouverGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Madeline E. Schreiber
    • 1
    Email author
  • Benjamin F. Schwartz
    • 2
  • William Orndorff
    • 3
  • Daniel H. Doctor
    • 4
  • Sarah D. Eagle
    • 1
  • Jonathan D. Gerst
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyTexas State University-San MarcosSan MarcosUSA
  3. 3.Virginia Department of Conservation and RecreationRichmondUSA
  4. 4.U.S. Geological SurveyRestonUSA

Personalised recommendations