UIS Commission on Karst Hydrogeology and Speleogenesis
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Sauro, F.
Structural and lithological guidance on speleogenesis in quartz–sandstone: evidence of the arenisation process

A detailed petrographic, structural and morphometric investigation of different types of caves carved in the quartz–sandstones of the “tepui” table mountains in Venezuela has allowed identification of the main speleogenetic factors guiding cave pattern development and the formation of particular features commonly found in these caves, such as funnel-shaped pillars, pendants and floor bumps. Samples of fresh and weathered quartz–sandstone of the Mataui Formation (Roraima Supergroup) were characterised through WDS dispersive X-ray chemical analyses, picnometer measurements, EDAX analyses, SEM and thin-section microscopy. In all the caves two compositionally different strata were identified: almost pure quartz–sandstones, with content of silica over 95% and high primary porosity (around 4%), and phyllosilicate-rich quartz–sandstone, with contents of aluminium over 10% and low primary porosity (lower than 0.5%). Phyllosilicates are mainly pyrophyllite and kaolinite. SEMimages on weathered samples showed clear evidence of dissolution on quartz grains to different degrees of development, depending on the alteration state of the samples. Grain boundary dissolution increases the rock porosity and gradually releases the quartz grains, suggesting that arenisation is a widespread and effective weathering process in these caves. The primary porosity and the degree of fracturing of the quartz–sandstone beds are the main factors controlling the intensity and distribution of the arenisation process. Weathering along iron hydroxide or silt layers, which represent inception horizons, or a strata-bounded fracture network, predisposes the formation of horizontal caves in specific stratigraphic positions. The loose sands produced by arenisation are removed by piping processes, gradually creating anastomosing open-fracture systems and forming braided mazes, geometric networks or main conduit patterns, depending on the local lithological and structural guidance on the weathering process. This study demonstrates that all the typical morphologies documented in these quartz–sandstone caves can be explained as a result of arenisation, which is guided by layers with particular petrographic characteristics (primary porosity, content of phyllosilicates and iron hydroxides), and different degrees of fracturing (strata-bounded fractures or continuous dilational joints).


Speleogenesis; Weathering; Strata-bounded fractures; Arenisation; Tepui; Venezuela;
Sauro, F., 2014, Structural and lithological guidance on speleogenesis in quartz–sandstone: evidence of the arenisation process , Geomorphology , 106 - 123 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.07.033, PDF