Sauro, Francesco and De Waele, Jo Hilaire Agnes and Onac, Bogdan P. and Galli, Ermanno and Dublyansky, Yuri and Baldoni, Eleonora and Sanna, Laura (2014) Hypogenic speleogenesis in quartzite: the case of Corona 'e Sa Craba Cave (SW Sardinia, Italy). Geomorphology, Vol. 211 , p. 77-88. ISSN 0169-555X. eISSN 1872-695X. Article.
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The paper presents a detailed study demonstrating the hypogenic origin of the Corona 'e Sa Craba quartzite cave in SW Sardinia (Italy). Although the quartzite host-rock of this cave derived from silicification of Cambrian dolostones and dissolution of carbonate remnants could have had a role in the speleogenesis, detailed morphologic and petrographic investigation revealed clear evidence of quartz dissolution without signs of mechanical erosion by running waters. Thin section microscopy and scanning electron microscope (SEM) images show pervasive dissolution morphologies, such as pits and notches on quartz crystals causing the deep arenization of the cave walls, suggesting that the dissolution of quartz had a primary role in the formation of the void. The study of secondary cave minerals and the sulfur isotopic composition of sulfates and sulfides, coupled with data on fluid inclusions, allowed reconstruction of the peculiar speleogenetic history of this hypogenic hydrothermal quartzite cave. The cave formed by reduced hydrothermal fluids, probably under basic–neutral pH in phreatic conditions. The presence of abundant cations of Ba2+ in reduced Cl-rich fluids enhanced the quartz dissolution rate, allowing the formation of the voids in deep settings. During the Late Oligocene uplift of the area, the hydrothermal fluids in the cave reached oxygen-rich conditions, thus a minerogenetic phase started with the deposition of barite when the temperature of the fluid was ≤ 50 °C. The presence of cinnabar crusts in the lower part of the cave walls and on the boulders suggests a later volcanic phase with Hg-rich vapors ascending from below. Other minerals such as alunite, basaluminite, gypsum and halloysite (typical of an acid sulfate alteration environment), and phosphates were formed in a final, much more recent stage. The δ34S values of the cave sulfate minerals indicate that S is derived from the remobilization of original Precambrian Pb–Zn Mississippi Valley Type ores. These last two stages did not significantly affect the morphology of the cave. The Corona 'e Sa Craba appears to be the world's first example of a hypogenic cave in quartzite where the speleogenetic mechanisms have been studied and reconstructed in detail, using a variety of modern methods. This study confirms that dissolution of quartz by thermal alkaline fluids at depth can produce large dissolutional voids in the apparently poorly soluble quartzite rocks.
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