Identifying temporal and spatial variations in the binding properties of transition metal-organic ligand complexes in cave waters using organic inclusions in speleothem calcite: Implications for paleoclimate research.

Speleothems such as stalagmites, stalactites and flowstones, contain paleoclimate information encoded in their geochemical properties. One of these properties, transition metal abundance in speleothem calcite, is tightly controlled by complexation reactions in cave water with dissolved organic matter (DOM). Organic compounds are also preserved in speleothem deposits. DOM structure varies from cave system to cave system and over time, but whether these structural variations meaningfully alter the way DOM controls trace metal incorporation into calcite is unclear. This is relevant to the development of speleothem transition metal content as a paleoclimate proxy, particularly over large spatial and temporal scales where DOM structure variations are likely. This study identifies variations in the binding properties of DOM preserved in speleothem calcite over time and space by extracting organic compounds of known age and origin from speleothems collected from New Zealand, Niuean, British, and Australian cave systems. The kinetic properties of DOM complexes from these extracts were measured using small volume diffusive gradients in thin films (SV-DGT) and the variation in the binding strength of complexes with Cu, Co, and Ni was compared across time and space. DOM binding of Cu and Co were found to vary significantly depending on the cave system from which the DOM originated. Whether this variation was linked to climate changes represented in the age of the DOM or to changes in system characteristics related to geographical setting was unclear. Despite this, it is apparent that there are factors related to the origin of DOM in cave systems that influence the kinetic restrictions applied to transition metals in cave water. This variability should be considered when linking trace element contents in cave precipitates to paleoclimate change.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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