New Mexico Geological Society Annual Spring Meeting & Ft. Stanton Cave Conference — Abstracts

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Gypsum Sediments in Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, NV, USA.

Zoe E. Havlena1, Daniel S. Jones1, Louise D. Hose2, Harvey R. DuChene3, Amanda L. Labrado4 and Benjamin Brunner4

1New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, 801 Leroy Pl., Socorro, NM, 87801,
2Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering, University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, NV
3Karst Waters Institute, Lake City, CO
4Department of Earth, Environmental, and Resource Sciences, The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX

Lehman Caves is set in mylonitic marble in the Southern Snake Range of Eastern Nevada, USA, and is part of Great Basin National Park. Recent morphological evidence described by Hose et al.1 indicate abundant features within the Gypsum Annex consistent with a hypogenic and sulfuric acid origin, in contrast with earlier and limited descriptions of the cave. Hose et al. propose a two-stage speleogenetic model with sulfuric acid speleogenesis (SAS) as the initial dissolution event followed by later stage epigenic overprinting in most of the cave. We sought to determine if sediments in the Gypsum Annex could be part of the proposed sulfuric acid origin versus a later-phase feature, and to compare these sediments to speleogenetic gypsum from other known SAS caves such as Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico and the Frasassi Caves in Italy. We first characterized the mineralogy of the sediments throughout Lehman using powdered X-ray diffraction (pXRD) and, for select samples, scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS). To determine if the white sediments (gypsum and calcite) found in the Gypsum Annex were related to an SAS phase or if they precipitated during a later phase of speleogenesis, we examined the δ34S values of gypsum and carbonate associated sulfate. We then sought to determine if these sediments host microbial life and how they compare to microbial communities, which are observed in active SAS systems. Microbial biomass in most of the sediments is very low, although 16S rRNA gene libraries suggest segregation of microbial species within different passages of the cave, and that inorganic N compounds are important energy resources for extant cave communities. Petrographic analysis of thin sections, in progress, will be used to evaluate diagenetic processes in the white deposits and look for potential traces of past life


  1. Hose, L.D.,DuChene, H.R., Jones, D., Baker, G.M., Havlena, Z., Sweetkind, D., and Powell, D., 2021, Hypogenic karst of the Great Basin, in Florsheim, J., Koeberl, C., McKay, M.P., and Riggs, N., eds., 2021 GSA Section Meeting Guides: Geological Society of America Field Guide 61.


Caves, Nevada, Gypsum, Sulfuric Acid Speleogenesis

2022 New Mexico Geological Society Annual Spring Meeting & Ft. Stanton Cave Conference
April 7-9, 2022, Macey Center, Socorro, NM
Online ISSN: 2834-5800

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