Annual trace element cycles in calcite-aragonite speleothems: evidence of drought in the western Mediterranean 1200-1100 yr BP

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Each of two calcitic stalagmites from Grotte de Clamouse, Herault, southern France, displays a discrete aragonite layer dated at around 1100yr BP. The layer of fanning aragonite ray crystals is immediately preceded by calcite with Mg and Sr compositions that are uniquely high for the past 3 kyr. Trace element compositions close to the boundary between original aragonite and calcite are consistent with quasi-equilibrium partitioning of trace elements between the phases. Study of modern dripwaters demonstrates that pronounced covariation of Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca ratios in dripwater occurs owing to large amounts of calcite precipitation upflow of the drips that fed the stalagmites. Trace element to Ca ratios are enhanced during seasonally dry periods. Ion rnicroprobe data demonstrate a pronounced covariation of trace elements, including Mg and Sr in calcite, and Sr, U and Ba in aragonite. The mean peak spacing is close to the long-term mean of annual growth rates determined by differences in U-series ages and so the trace element peaks are interpreted as annual. The trace element chemistry of the stalagmites on annual to inter-annual scales thus directly reflects the amounts of prior calcite precipitation, interpreted as an index of aridity. The longer-term context is a multi-decadal period of aridity (1200-1100 yr BP) possibly correlated with an analogous episode in Central America. The arid period culminated in the nucleation of aragonite, but within a decade was followed by a return to precursor conditions. Copyright (C) 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-433
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Quaternary Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2005


  • stalagmites, palaeoprecipitation, trace elements, aridity, annual laminae