Stable carbon isotope analysis in a South Texas cave: Investigating sources of CO2 production




Thompson, Reece

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Studies of interactions between modern local climate, cave atmosphere, and ?13C ratios are needed to determine sources of CO2 in caves, and the cycles of seasonal variations that alter karst geochemistry. A seasonal study, focusing on the analysis of stable isotopes collected from a modern cave system, was conducted in Robber Baron Cave (RBC) in order to identify sources of CO2 in its atmosphere. Determining what conditions affect cave morphology and the transfer path of carbon through a cave system is necessary in order to assess the role of caves in the carbon cycle and correctly interpret past ecological changes. This study investigates the extent that stable isotopic values of carbon in CO2 are affected by CO2 sourced from soils, bedrock, atmospheric air, and vegetation, and how ?13C signals are transmitted in a modern cave system. This study also measures how ventilation affects CO2 concentration and ?13C on seasonal scales. In-cave air grab samples were collected monthly at various transects located in RBC in order to measure CO2 composition in addition to factors such as temperature, and barometric pressure. Soil gas and limestone bedrock were also collected and tested for ?13C composition. Air samples were analyzed using an Ambient Air-Model G2101-I Picarro Cavity Ring-Down Spectroscopy Analyzer for both the concentration and ?13C isotopic value of CO2. These values were then compared to isotopic values of known sources of CO2 in order to determine possible sources of CO2 that result in high CO2 concentrations found in RBC. The background stable isotopic value of carbon from CO2 measured in RBC is -19.1‰ VPDB.


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Carbon, Cave, CO2, Isotope, mixing model, Robber Baron