GEOLOGICA CARPATHICA, 53, 6, BRATISLAVA, DECEMBER 2002
399 — 410
OCHTINÁ ARAGONITE CAVE (WESTERN CARPATHIANS, SLOVAKIA):
MORPHOLOGY, MINERALOGY OF THE FILL AND GENESIS
, PAVEL BELLA
, VÁCLAV CÍLEK
, DEREK C. FORD
, HELENA HERCMAN
, ARMSTRONG OSBORNE
and PETR PRUNER
Institute of Geology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Rozvojová 135, 165 02 Praha 6-Lysolaje, Czech Republic;
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Slovak Caves Administration, Hodžova 11, 031 01 Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovak Republic; email@example.com
School of Geography and Geology, McMaster University, 1280, Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1, Canada;
Institute of Geological Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences, Twarda 51/55, 00-818 Warszawa, Poland; firstname.lastname@example.org
Faculty of Education, A35, University of Sydney, N.S.W. 2006, Australia; email@example.com
(Manuscript received March 19, 2002; accepted in revised form October 3, 2002)
Abstract: Ochtiná Aragonite Cave is a 300 m long cryptokarstic cavity with simple linear sections linked to a geometri-
cally irregular spongework labyrinth. The metalimestones, partly metasomatically altered to ankerite and siderite, occur
as isolated lenses in insoluble rocks. Oxygen-enriched meteoric water seeping along the faults caused siderite/ankerite
weathering and transformation to ochres that were later removed by mechanical erosion. Corrosion was enhanced by
sulphide weathering of gangue minerals and by carbon dioxide released from decomposition of siderite/ankerite. The
initial phreatic speleogens, older than 780 ka, were created by dissolution in density-derived convectional cellular circu-
lation conditions of very slow flow. Thermohaline convection cells operating in the flooded cave might also have influ-
enced its morphology. Later vadose corrosional events have altered the original form to a large extent. Water levels have
fluctuated many times during its history as the cave filled during wet periods and then slowly drained. Mn-rich loams
with Ni-bearing asbolane and birnessite were formed by microbial precipitation in the ponds remaining after the floods.
Allophane was produced in the acidic environment of sulphide weathering. La-Nd-phosphate and REE enriched Mn-
oxide precipitated on geochemical barriers in the asbolane layers. Ochres containing about 50 wt.% of water influence
the cave microclimate and the precipitation of secondary aragonite. An oldest aragonite generation is preserved as
corroded relics in ceiling niches truncated by corrosional bevels. Thermal ionisation mass spectrometry and alpha
counting U series dating has yielded ages of about 500—450 and 138—121 ka, indicating that there have been several
episodes of deposition, occurring during Quaternary warm periods (Elsterian 1/2, Eemian). Spiral and acicular forms
representing a second generation began to be deposited in Late Glacial (14 ka – Alleröd) times. The youngest aragonite,
frostwork, continues to be deposited today. Both of the younger generations have similar isotopic compositions, indicat-
ing that they originated in conditions very similar, or identical, to those found at present in the cave.
Key words: Slovenské rudohorie Mts, Ochtiná Aragonite Cave, cave morphology, speleogenesis, mineralogy, aragonite,
U series dating.
Ochtiná Aragonite Cave (OAC) is unique among the 4,250
known caves in Slovakia, although with only 300 m of pas-
sages it is relatively small (Fig. 1B). The cave was discovered
in 1954 during the excavation of an adit (Kapusta Gallery) for
iron ore exploration. The mine workings also intersected oth-
er, smaller caves but none were so interesting or significant.
The cave was opened to the public in 1972 and in 1995 was
included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as a component
of the Caves of the Slovak and Aggtelek Karsts.
The cave is located in the NW shoulder of Hrádok Hill
(809 m a.s.l.) in the Revúcka vrchovina Highlands, a part of
the Slovenské rudohorie Mts, some 75 km west of the region-
al capital, Košice (Fig. 1A). Caves there are developed in
steeply dipping metalimestone lenses of variable size entirely
surrounded by phyllites of the Drnava Formation (Upper Sil-
urian to Lower Devonian; Gelnica Group; Bajaník &
Vozárová, Eds. 1983; Ivanička et al. 1989). They were folded
and metamorphosed during the Variscan Orogeny. Some of
the faults and fissures were rejuvenated during the formation
of Alpine nappes. Portions of the metalimestone have been
metasomatically altered to ankerites and siderites by Mg and
Fe-bearing hydrothermal solutions (Mišík 1953) ascending
particular fissures (Droppa 1957). There have been two pro-
posals for the age of mineralization: (1) related to the Variscan
metamorphic front (e.g., Grecula, Ed. 1995), and (2) a prod-
uct of hydrothermal activity associated with the emplacement
of the Gemericum granites (Andrusov 1958), which have
been dated to 96 Ma (Kantor in Homza et al. 1970). No
younger hydrothermal activity has been recognized in this re-
gion (Gaál 1996). The cave is structurally guided, with N-S,
W-E and SW-NE trends (Rajman et al. 1990; Gaál 1996; see
Fig. 1B). The cave lies between 636 (basal lake) and 647 m
a.s.l. (Droppa 1957). There is no relationship to the surface
hydrology and morphology, as the metalimestone lenses are
isolated by nearly impermeable phyllites. Springs in the envi-
rons of the cave have only low discharges and are situated
some 20 to 100 m below (Bella et al. 2000).
About 15 other caves of the Ochtiná cryptokarst type have
been intercepted by the Kapusta Gallery (Gaál 1996) but they
are substantially smaller. Some are mazes, others are isolated
rooms or fissures. There are some aragonite speleothems simi-
lar to those in the OAC. These caves are not connected to the
400 BOSÁK et al.
OAC or each other. Other caves are found in the vicinity as
well, but they differ substantially from the Ochtiná cryp-
tokarst in form (Gaál 1998).
Droppa (1957) compared the tube-like cave passages to the
erosion forms produced by typical flowing streams under-
ground. Aggressive corrosion by meteoric waters percolating
along tectonic fissures was the main agent in the development
of the cave. Eroded products from the chemical weathering of
the ankerites were deposited in the lower parts of cave, ob-
structing drainage outlets there.
Gaál & Ženiš (1986) argued that percolating meteoric wa-
ters first oxidized the ankerite to create iron hydroxides –
ochres; mechanical erosion of the ochres then produced the
larger voids. The general shape of the cave thus is that of the
original metasomatic ankerite bodies in the limestone, with
later modifications resulting from some subsequent dissolu-
tion of the limestone, partly under phreatic conditions.
In addition to the oxidation of siderite/ankerite, Rajman et
al. (1990, 1993) stressed the contribution of other types of
mineralization to the development of the karst. Oxidation of
the abundant sulphide minerals in the surrounding rocks
(chiefly pyrite) increased corrosional aggressivity of percolat-
ing waters by producing H
. Gaál (1996) also supposed
Fig. 1. Geomorphological map of the Ochtiná Aragonite Cave, showing typical cross-sections (after Bella 1998, modified) and the sediment
section in Oválna Passage. A – location map; B – plan: Corrosion-denudation forms: Planar speleogens: 1 – horizontal solutional ceil-
ings (Laugdecken); 2 – inclined planar walls of passages and halls descending to the floor (planes of repose, Facetten); 3 – inclined, more
or less planar walls of passages and halls with smaller corrosion convex and concave forms; Concave speleogens: 4 – shallow oval irregu-
lar spoon-like depressions on roofs and walls; 5 – deeper distinct oval irregular depressions on roofs and walls; 6 – distinct, mostly hori-
zontal niches; 7 – cupola-shaped depressions in roofs; 8 – shallow elongated channel-shaped forms in roof; 9 – horizontal elongated
notches on walls; 10 – blind lateral tube-like holes; 11 – rocky windows in bedrock; 12 – narrow steep corrosion cavities developed
along prominent fissures; 13 – horizontal shallow trough-like depressions; 14 – tubular karren; 15 – fissure karren on collapsed blocks;
16 – shallow drip-holes on collapsed blocks; Convex speleogens: 17 – large irregular bedrock protrusions in roofs; 18 – structurally-con-
trolled large elongated roof bedrock juts on roofs; 19 – less pronounced elongated roof bedrock juts on roofs controlled by bedding; 20 –
bedrock pendants; 21 – bedrock blades; 22 – elongate, indistinct and irregular bedrock protrusions along walls; 23 – elongated bedrock
protrusions above horizontal corrosion notches; 24 – oval bedrock protrusions in floors; Structural-tectonic forms: 25 – smooth break-
down surfaces without corrosional relief; Depositional forms: 26 – sediment sequences; 27 – cones and banks of sediments at the foot of
walls; 28 – planar accumulation surface; 29 – piles of collapsed blocks; Erosion forms: 30 – meandering channel on flat accumulation
surface; 31 – dripholes; Other: 32 – trail; 33 – lake; C – cross-sections: 34 – planes of repose with thin cover of ochres; 35 – ochres;
36 – aragonite; 37 – stalagmite; 38 – trail; D – profile in Oválna Passage: black squares – position of paleomagnetic samples; magne-
tostratigraphic results (column on the right) = black – normal polarised magnetozone, white – reverse polarised magnetozone; for expla-
nations of 1 to 5, see the text.
OCHTINÁ ARAGONITE CAVE 401
that limestone corrosion and ankerite oxidation and mechani-
cal washout were the main speleogenetic agents. He consid-
ered that during periods of higher rainfall the limestone lens-
es, hydrogeologically isolated by the phyllites, could become
temporarily flooded with water.
Despite the abundance of distinctive corrosion forms in the
cave, little has been written about their genesis and the hy-
draulic conditions under which they may have formed. Drop-
pa (1957) mentioned effects of hydrostatic pressure when the
open cavities were completely flooded. Gaál & Ženiš (1986)
and Gaál (1996, 1998) argued that the cave formed under
phreatic conditions. Bella (1997, 1998) was the first to recog-
nize that the planar solution roofs (bevels, Laugdecken),
planes of repose (facets, Facetten) and longitudinal wall
notches are particularly important. Cupola-shaped depres-
sions in the roof originated by convective processes in the wa-
ter. He also recognized the dominant role of phreatic and stag-
nant vadose waters in the cave evolution at times when the
carbonate lens was water-saturated (cf. Ford & Williams
1989, p. 294—308).
Due to the difficulty of explaining the origin of concave
corrosion forms and the development of passages with oval
cross-sections, Choppy (1994, following ideas of Nicod
1974), suggested that the OAC evolved as a result of hydro-
thermal processes. Gaál (1996) contended that hydrothermal
processes during the Late Cretaceous time operated at much
greater depths, however, and that the accelerated Tertiary and
Quaternary meteoric karst corrosion completely overprinted
traces of any earlier hydrothermal activity. Results of detailed
geomorphological research do not support a hydrothermal
genesis for the surviving initial forms (Bella 1998). Cílek et
al. (1998) stressed the nothephreatic origin of some of these
morphologies (cf. Jennings 1985). No hydrothermal minerals
have been detected in the cave and the aragonite deposition
was not related to hydrothermal conditions (see Cílek & Šmej-
kal 1986; Rajman et al. 1990, 1993).
The presence of fresh, unweathered corrosion forms led
Droppa (1957) to propose that the caves were relatively
young, with speleogenesis occurring at the beginning of the
Holocene. Kubíny (1959) suggested that the caves originated
during Quaternary glaciations. Weathering of the ankerites
and successive exhumation and erosion of the ochres began in
the Tertiary and has been active ever since in the view of
Homza et al. (1970), and Rajman et al. (1990). The first U se-
ries dating of samples of the aragonite (Ford, unpublished, cit-
ed in Rajman et al. 1990, 1993) gave two ages, one of 138—
121 and the other of 14 ka B.P. that rule out a Holocene
Detailed geomorphological mapping (Bella 1998), based on
previous maps (Ševčík & Kantor 1956, and Droppa 1957) has
defined the principal and smaller morphological forms (for lo-
cation and list of forms, see Fig. 1). The forms described here-
after are given non-genetic descriptive names owing to the
fact that some of them cannot be correlated with any com-
monly applied terms (e.g., those of Slabe 1995).
The cave consists of two genetically different types of voids
or principal speleogens: (1) high and narrow linear fissures
(e.g., from Vstupná Hall to Mramorová Hall; Fig. 1B), and (2)
a labyrinth of passages and chambers with oval cross-sec-
tions. Bedrock corrosion forms are the most abundant type of
speleogens. Structural-tectonic forms, clastic sedimentary
depositional and erosional forms are less frequent (Fig. 1B).
The corrosional speleogens are products of the enlargement of
the caves, occurring on the floors, walls and roofs of all pas-
sages and chambers. They can be classified by their geometry
into: planar, concave, and convex types. The principal planar
speleogens are horizontal solutional ceilings (Laugdecken
sensu Kempe et al. 1975 or bevels sensu Ford & Williams
1989) and inclined planar walls descending to the floors of
passages and halls (planes of repose sensu Lange 1962, 1963;
Goodman 1964 or Facetten sensu Kempe et al. 1975; Figs. 1C
and 2.3). The predominant concave speleogens are pro-
nounced, more or less closed oval cupola-shaped depressions
in roofs (Fig. 2.1). Horizontal concave notches extending
along walls and convex bedrock prominences just above them
indicate positions of long-lasting paleo-water levels. In addi-
tion there are elongated shallow trough-like depressions and tu-
bular karren produced by flowing water for example in Vstupná
and Mramorová Halls.
Corrosion bevels are developed at three different levels
within the cave. The highest is preserved in Oválna Passage.
Lower bevels occur in Ježovitá Passage and Aragonitová
záhrada and 2 m below the roof in Oválna Passage. Near the
junction of Ježovitá Passage and Hlboký Hall, there is also a
bedrock pendant truncated by bevelling 0.4 m below the roof
level. The lowest bevels correspond with the low roof level in
Aragonitová záhrada near Hlboký Hall. This indicates that the
retention level of stagnant water in the cave has fallen over
time and/or oscillated substantially at different times.
Flat surfaces (smooth joint planes without any corrosional
relief) produced by breakdown along structural discontinuities
(Mramorová Hall) represent structural-tectonic forms. Depo-
sitional forms (sediment sequences, piles of collapsed blocks,
etc.) developed when clastic sediments were deposited or re-
moved from the caves: for example horizontal accumulations
with desiccation cracks, deposited by periodic floods; cones
of infiltration sediments from percolating water (Vstupná
Hall). Small depressions (small meandering channels, drip-
holes) resulting from the erosion of clayey sediments by flow-
ing and dripping water in Vstupná Hall represent clastic ero-
sional speleogens, which are less important in the cave.
Twenty three samples of ochres, clays, broken aragonite
speleothems and neomorphic aragonite were collected in the
cave. Twelve typical samples were studied by SEM and anal-
ysed on 60 points by EDAX (LINK connected to a JEOL-
JXA-50A Microprobe). A total of 34 X-ray diffraction analy-
ses were made (Philips Diffractometer PW 3710, radiation
). Powder produced for the X-ray work was also analy-
402 BOSÁK et al.
sed by microprobe. Clay minerals were identified with a com-
bination of non-oriented, oriented, heated, and glycol-treated
samples. Mn oxides were separated by sieving, and in a set-
tling column using deposition times ranging from 2 hours to 8
days. Individual portions were structurally analysed. Mn ox-
ides, goethite and allophane were analysed by DTA and TG
(TG-750 Stanton-Reford, University of Chemical Technolo-
gy, Prague). Carbon and oxygen stable isotope ratios in the
carbonates were measured with a Finnigan MAT 251 Mass
Spectrometer with error at ±0.001 ‰ (Czech Geological Sur-
vey, Prague). Water content in ochres was calculated from
weight loss at 70
C. All analyses, except where otherwise
mentioned, were carried out at the Institute of Geology, AS
CR Prague. Other speleothems were visually examined in the
cave with a portable UV-lamp (253 and 360 nm).
The brown to rusty ochres are soft and moist, containing 47
to 56 % of water by weight. They formed from weathered
ankeritic and sideritic metasomatites and also cover cave
walls as irregular crusts deposited from waters. Goethite is
present as an extremely fine-grained to cryptocrystalline, al-
though not amorphous, matrix in the ochres and as fine acicu-
Fig. 2. Photographs of typical forms and speleothems in the cave. 1 – cupola-shaped depressions in the roof of Hviezdna Hall; 2 – ara-
gonite of the oldest generation truncated by bevels in Hlboký Hall; 3 – cross-section of the passage between Ježovitá and Aragonitová
Passages, showing planes of repose; 4 – the sedimentary profile in Oválna Passage; 5 – aragonite of the second generation in Oválna
Passage; 6 – the youngest aragonite on ochres in Ježovitá Passage (photos 1 to 4 and 6 by P. Bella, photo 5 by A. Lucinkiewicz).
OCHTINÁ ARAGONITE CAVE 403
Ochre Asbolane Allophane
23.88 51.14 57.67 14.09
0.05 nd 0.19 0.40 nd
24.24 41.16 33.45 13.71
*2.14 1.29 0.75 *5.94
1.03 0.08 0.11 1.04
0.10 0.20 11.86 0.20
1.22 3.29 0.08 4.01
13.28 2.27 1.91 2.37
29.65 0.37 0.23 27.80
nd nd nd
3.94 nd nd
0.52 nd nd
nd nd nd
nd nd nd
nd — not determined
lar forms (several
m) “floating” in fine-grained ochre. The
moisture content of the ochres distinctly influences the hu-
midity of the air analysed in the cave, as the ochres function
as a humidity buffer, able to adsorb and release water vapour.
The ochres contain irregular laminae of birnessite
O]. In addition to clastic quartz, the
ochres also contain clay minerals (muscovite 2M
, illite, prob-
able chlorite and 1.48 nm smectite) that were deposited on the
rock surface in flooded cave conditions. Some of the ochres
contain elevated concentrations of P
(0.3 to 1.0 %; cf. Ta-
Black Mn ochres occur as an admixture in the Fe ochres
and other cave fills. They are derived from the ankeritic meta-
somatites, which contain about 2 % MnO. The sequence in
Oválna Passage (Fig. 2.4) is composed of very fine-grained
massive brown clay (a mixture of goethite and clay minerals)
and includes a layer about 300 mm thick that is composed of
several bands of Mn ochres with abundant intercalations of
white allophane and redeposited Fe ochres. Asbolane is abun-
dant here as soft, black, earthy material with a clayey appear-
ance. Bulk samples and various grain-size fractions were anal-
ysed. There were problems of exact identification due to
structural disordering, the almost amorphous nature of the
mineral that may represent a mixture of semi-amorphous
phases. However a comparison with PDF-2 (Powder Difrac-
tion File, CD Rom of JCPDS-ICDD, 1996; Fig. 3) points to
asbolane as the closest mineral. Submicron-sized plates of
remained in the sample even after extended
sedimentation, masking other diffuse diffraction lines.
Asbolane comprise about 30 to 40 % of the black fills. It is
usually accompanied by muscovite, and also by quartz, goet-
hite, allophane, birnessite, apatite, anatase and, more rarely,
by rutile and authigenic La-Nd-bearing phosphate (Fig. 4a).
Nickel content can reach 3.94 % (Table 1), while only traces
of Co (less than 0.1 %) appeared. The magnesium content is
relatively stable but can be locally increased (2.4 to nearly
10 %). Similar variability was detected in P, Ba (0.4 to 1.4 %)
and the rare earth elements (REE).
Sometimes the asbolane consists of microscopic globules of
Mn-oxide covered by fine Mn-fossilized organic filaments,
indicating the microbial conversion of Mn
. The as-
bolane layers probably result from bacterial precipitation in
shallow residual pools left after the cave was suddenly
drained (see also Andrejchuk & Klimchouk 2001).
Birnessite occurs as a soft black substance. It cannot be dis-
tinguished optically from the asbolane. Birnessite was identi-
fied both in Fe ochres (as fine darker coloured and irregular
Fig. 4. DTA/TG curves of asbolane (a) and allophane (b) from the
Oválna Passage (velocity of heat 10
, air 10 ml.min
sensitivity DTA 10
Table 1: Representative chemical analyses of selected minerals.
Fig. 3. X-ray diffraction spectrum of the asbolane layer. A – as-
bolane, Q – quartz, M – muscovite, AP – apatite, G – goethite.
404 BOSÁK et al.
bands) and in the asbolane layers where it is probably a prod-
uct of maturation of asbolane.
Allophane was found only in the asbolane deposits, as sepa-
rate white, fine-grained earthy layers 30 to 80 mm thick disin-
tegrating into cubes, or as admixtures within the asbolane.
Allophane was identified by chemical analyses, X-ray diffrac-
tion and particularly by DTA and TG analyses (Fig. 4b).
Allophane is an uncommon mineral in karst caves (Hill &
Forti 1997, p. 179—181), but nevertheless, is relatively abun-
dant in speleothems growing in abandoned mines. It has also
been found in pseudokarst fissure caves (Cílek, Langrová &
Melka 1998). Allophane commonly forms in the acidic envi-
ronment produced by weathering of sulphides in the sur-
rounding rocks. Its occurrence in limestones that are usually
associated with high pH may therefore appear somewhat surpris-
ing. However, its presence is a strong indication that sulphide
weathering played a role during speleogenesis of the cave.
Kaolinite group mineral (halloysite)
A mineral of the kaolinite group, structurally similar to hal-
loysite, occurs as an indistinct admixture in the allophane. It
was detected by X-ray diffraction. We presume that it formed
either by maturation of the allophane or that the allophane was
formed by the transformation of weathering products contain-
ing minerals of the kaolinite group.
Authigenic cryptocrystalline anatase forms amoeba-like
patches of cement in small fragments of brown ferruginous
clayey siltstones/sandstones. The fragments represent relics of
kaolinitization products washed down into the cave. Anatase
was detected by chemical analyses and on the basis of mor-
phological comparison with samples from the Czech Karst
(Cílek & Bednářová 1993).
Authigenic apatite forms irregular thin laminae, less than
1 mm thick, and irregular amoeba-like impregnations in the
asbolane profiles. It was detected by chemical analysis and X-
ray diffraction. Migration of Ca-phosphate requires an acidic
environment. Phosphates, other than those derived from gua-
no, precipitate in limestone from relatively acidic surficial P-
enriched solutions, which have been leached from soil and
is a very common accessory mineral, detect-
ed in samples by X-ray diffraction, then separated and chemi-
cally analysed. The typical chemical analysis is given in Table
1. Muscovite occurs as very fine-grained plates. It is probably
derived from phyllites. Quartz occurs as angular and corroded
silt-sized grains. Acicular rutile was found in some places as-
sociated with anatase cement.
Detailed sampling of the asbolane layer revealed places
with increased P content in the form of apatite (X-ray identifi-
cation). In other places the P content was slightly greater than
Ca content. Nevertheless, high La (La
up to 12.21 %) and
Nd contents (Nd
up to 8.91 %) occurred in similar posi-
tions repeatedly. The La-Nd-bearing phases are very fine-
grained (tens of
m) and cannot be macroscopically distin-
guished within the black asbolane. The chemical composition
of the phosphate-asbolane layer with high REE and Ba con-
tents is listed in Table 1.
The REE regularly occur in association with high P concen-
trations. In some places the REE concentration is higher than
the P contents, so the relationship between REE and Mn ox-
ides has to be taken into account. A number of REE released
by weathering (presumably of volcanics) can migrate effi-
ciently within carbonate sequences. They form authigenic
minerals only with difficulty, but they can be fixed in finely
dispersed phosphate or in Mn oxides.
Aragonite speleothems are the outstanding feature of this
cave. According to Rajman et al. (1990, 1993), aragonite spe-
leothems have been traditionally classified according to their
morphology into: kidney-shaped, acicular and spiral (i.e. flos
ferri) forms. Cílek et al. (1998) identified three generations of
aragonite speleothems according to their age and/or relation-
ship to the speleogens.
The oldest aragonite generation (AI) occurs as massive,
whitish milky-coloured, kidney-shaped forms and irregularly
corroded relics with polyhedral appearance, rarely more than
300 mm thick (Fig. 2.2). The aragonite is highly and irregular-
ly recrystallized and corroded. Fine-grained parts are still
composed of aragonite (radial-fibrous aggregates), with some
calcite (blocky mosaic). Recrystallized patches consist of cal-
cite, with some aragonite, mica and quartz (X-ray analysis).
Fine box-work structures or very fine dogtooth-like crystals
cover walls of corrosion voids. Some voids are filled with
milky-white finely radial-fibrous aggregates of aragonite or
by mica-rich sediment (X-ray detection). Long duration phos-
phorescence (up to 5 s.) after illumination by UV-lamp differ-
entiates the oldest generation from the younger one. Plane so-
lution roofs (bevels) commonly truncate the oldest aragonite.
The second generation of aragonite (AII) occurs as long
needles and helictites, so-called acicular and spiral forms, up
to several hundred millimetres long (Fig. 2.5) growing on the
metalimestone walls and roofs, and along fissures. It displays
fluorescence, but no phosphorescence in UV-light. The arago-
nite needles are sometimes associated with globular opal.
Crystal faces do not display any corrosion, even under high
30 to 500). Microscope and field observa-
tions indicate that this generation of aragonite has been grow-
ing continually up to the present time, explaining its bright
white colour and fresh appearance.
The youngest aragonite generation (AIII) has not previously
been detected due to its tiny size (Fig. 2.6). It occurs as fine
fan-like forms with diameter of 2 to 4 mm (sometimes more)
and as miniature helictites with lengths not exceeding 40 mm.
OCHTINÁ ARAGONITE CAVE 405
The helictites usually grow from centres of radial aggregates.
These forms – “frostwork” – grow on soil and Fe ochres,
typically in Hlboký Hall above the lake. Here, aggregates
cover thin coatings of loam and ochre deposited from stagnant
water. There was inhomogeneous glowing, with greenish and
bluish points and phosphorescence of 1 to 2 seconds duration
appeared when the aragonite was illuminated by the UV-
U series ages of speleothems
Samples of aragonite and calcite were collected by Štefan
Roda sen. in 1989 or 1990, and by Pavel Bosák and Pavel
Bella in 1997, 1999 and 2000 in Oválna Passage and Hlboký
Hall. The location of Roda’s samples was marked by red
crosses on the map in Rajman et al. (1990).
Samples of aragonite and calcite have been dated in two
laboratories – at McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
(Ford) and at the Institute of Geological Sciences, Polish
Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland (Hercman). Two ap-
plications of the
U method (Ivanovich & Harmon,
Eds. 1992) were adopted, the first using the older standard
means of estimating the ratio of the two isotopes by counting
radioactive disintegrations (alpha particles) by spectroscopy;
the second using the modern method of direct isotope count-
ing in a mass spectrometer (TIMS – thermal ionisation
mass spectrometry; Li et al. 1989). Results are summarized
in Table 2.
Ford dated two of Roda’s samples in 1990 (90/Och1 and
90/Och2). All samples had a high uranium content (as is typi-
cal in aragonite) and negligible amounts of detrital thorium,
and thus yielded precise and unambiguous ages. Results were
partly published by Rajman et al. (1993).
Sample 90/Och2 was a portion of aragonite flowstone (AI/
2) broken during trail construction. It was 20 mm in thickness,
clean and opaque white, with a coconut meat texture. For al-
pha dating it was cut into three slices of ~7 mm thickness each
(samples Och2A, Och2B and Och2C), representing the top,
middle and base of the deposit respectively. All three analyses
yielded U contents of 8—10 ppm. Thorium was lost from
Och2C during the extraction, with the result that no date
could be obtained. Sample Och2B from the middle third of
the flowstone gave an age of 138,000±7,000 years BP, where
±7,000 is the one standard deviation statistical counting error.
Sample Och2A from the top one third of the flowstone gave
an age of 121,000±6,500 years.
If sample Och2 grew at a constant rate between Och2B and
Och2A, then the accumulation rate was ~0.41 mm/1,000
years. If it is further assumed that all of the deposit grew at
this constant rate, then its growth commenced about 162 ka
ago and ceased at approximately 115 ka ago.
Sample 90/Och1 consisted of three broken aragonite spiral
helictites (AII “needles” or “whiskers”), all measuring about
60 mm in length and tapering from ~3 mm external diameter
at the base to ~2 mm at the tip. They contained central canals
for water flow but the tips were sealed. The needles appear to
be extending by fluid permeating out and precipitating in the
region of the tips and it was supposed that the latter were
Table 2: Uranium series dating.
±0.049 1.056±0.008 1.388±0.024
±0.020 1.086±0.044 1.246±0.030
±0.047 1.002±0.028 1.017±0.036
±0.112 1.064±0.017 1.093±0.030
Age cannot be calculated
Age cannot be calculated
Age cannot be calculated
N.B. Error margins quoted are two standard deviations for TIMS data and one standard deviation for alpha-spectroscopy.
* Data not available (lost when laboratory moved).
406 BOSÁK et al.
modern. The observed sealing of the tips might possibly be a
consequence of the artificial opening of the cave changing the
The basal 15 mm of one needle were analysed by the alpha
method in 1990 (sample 90/Och1), yielding the remarkable U
content of 15 ppm and an age of 13,600±500 years (one stan-
dard deviation). As a check, a second needle was analysed by
mass spectrometry in 1995. The basal 15 mm of growth con-
tained 18 ppm U and yielded an age of 13,300±68 years (two
standard deviation error; 95/Och1B). No age could be derived
for the top 15 mm (sample Och1A, 16 ppm U) because it had
insufficient thorium; this implies that it is both very clean (no
detrital contamination problems) and young, supporting the
assumption that the very tip is modern. From these measure-
ments we establish that the needle grew ~52.5 mm in 13.3 ka,
giving a mean extension rate of about 4 mm per 1 ka.
Two pieces of the AI generation truncated by bevels from
the junction of the Oválna Passage and Hlboký Hall (samples
JOA 1 and JOA 2) were corroded and partially recrystallized
to calcite. Measurements were done with alpha spectroscopy
(OCTET PC, EG & G ORTEC; by Hercman in 1999). Both
analyses yielded low uranium contents (0.6 and 3 ppm) and a
U ratio significantly higher than 1 (about 1.4). The
high ratio, unusual in the nature, suggests that there was pref-
erential leaching of uranium from the samples during recrys-
tallization and/or corrosion, rendering the computed age unre-
liable. Alpha spectrometric data from similar eroded old
aragonite and calcite flowstone of the AI generation that were
found as fragments within the cave. Data of Hercman from
early 2001 indicated age both of calcite and aragonite over
350 ka. Therefore, TIMS U series analyses were made by
Ford in 2001 on another part of the same samples. The miner-
alogy was confirmed by X-ray diffraction. The extractions
were carried out in a clean room with laminar flow hoods, and
two analyses were made of each sample.
The two analyses of calcite (01/Och2A and 01/Och2B) are
very similar. The U content is satisfactory for calcite (most
speleothems have between 0.05 and 1.0 ppm). The sample is
Th >>20). In the second analysis the
U ratio just exceeded 1.0000, possibly from detritus. But it
is very similar to the first analysis in all other respects. This
can be taken as confirmation that the age estimate of approxi-
mately 450 ka is acceptable, which was confirmed by repeat-
ed analysis (02/Och2).
Two analyses of aragonite (01/Och1A and 01/Och1B) show
that the sample is very clean and has the high U content typi-
cal of aragonite. The
U ratio is just in secular equi-
librium, so that an age cannot be obtained by this method.
U on the other hand is not in equilibrium, implying
that the sample is certainly younger than 1,250,000 years. It is
probably a little older than the calcite sample.
A clastic sediment section well exposed on the northern
side of the Oválna Passage is about 0.7 m high (Fig. 1D).
From the top, it is composed of the following layers: 1 –
white flowstone with stalagmite; 2 – clay, reddish brown,
with greyish black schlieren enriched in Mn-compounds,
massive, laminated in places, disintegrated into irregular poly-
hedral fragments (samples OCH 1 and OCH 2); 3 – alterna-
tion of reddish brown clay (thickness max. 1.5 cm; samples
OCH 3 and OCH 4) with layers blackened by Mn-rich miner-
als (thickness from 4 to 6 cm), and white bands with allo-
phane crystals (thickness of 1 to 5 cm; Fig. 2.4); 4 – clay,
reddish brown, massive, disintegrates into irregular polyhe-
dral fragments (sample OCH 5).
The flowstone, about 1—2 cm thick (layer No. 1 on Fig. 1D)
was dated by the U series alpha counting method (Hercman).
The U content (about 6 ppm) was similar to aragonite samples
(see above). The content of detrital Th was negligible. The
analysis gave an age of 177,000+10,000/—9,000 at one stan-
Samples were demagnetized by the alternating field proce-
dures up to 1,000 Oe with a Schonstedt GSD-1 machine. The
remanent magnetisation J
was measured on a JR-5 spinner
magnetometer (Jelínek 1966). Values of volume magnetic
were measured on a kappa-bridge KLY-2
(Jelínek 1973). Separation of the respective remanent magne-
tization components was carried out by multi-component
analysis (Kirschvink 1980).
The magnetic properties, both J
values, of samples
from layer No. 2 are distinctly different from those of layers
Nos. 3 to 5 (Table 3). Sample OCH 1 (layer No. 2) displays
normal remanent magnetization. All underlying samples are
magnetically reversed (Fig. 1D). Pruner et al. (2000) correlat-
ed this polarity change with the Brunhes/Matuyama reversal
of 780 ka B.P., because the speleothem date of 177 ka estab-
lishes that it must be older than any of the short-lived reverse
magnetic excursions within Matuyama chron (cf. Zhu & Tschu,
At several places in the cave it can be clearly seen that the
voids were filled by ochres, which were later removed. Pas-
sages that are partly filled at present have an oval shape. They
were formed either before the ochres were produced by anker-
ite oxidation or before the eroded ochre residuum was depos-
ited in water-filled passages.
Table 3: Principal magnetic properties of samples.
OCHTINÁ ARAGONITE CAVE 407
The first subsurface cavities were formed by corrosion of
the limestone and oxidation of the ankerite. These cavities
were flooded by meteoric water infiltrating along the major
fault line in Vstupná and Mramorová Halls and also along the
lesser fissures in Hlboký Hall and Sieň mliečnej cesty Hall.
Continuous and dominantly horizontal cavities formed along
parallel fissures. Irregular corrosion features developed on the
bedrock surfaces, these were considerably enlarged and modi-
fied by later corrosional events. The only original forms still
preserved are irregular niches and cupolas found above the
younger corrosion bevels. The source of the carbon dioxide
for intensive corrosion can be found in the ankerite weather-
ing with an end product of goethite, that is by a process simi-
lar to that described by Kempe (1998) from Harz (Germany)
for alteration of siderite to limonite, according to following
O = 2Fe(HCO
, then (Eq. 1)
O = 2Fe(OH)
or (Eq. 2)
O = 2Fe
O + 4CO
O is limonite.
The frequent presence of pyrite in the metalimestones and
of allophane, a typical product of acid decomposition of clay
minerals, suggests that the corrosion might have been en-
hanced by sulphide weathering and oxidation to H
er, the absence of any gypsum replacing limestone or of native
sulphur in the cave indicates this effect was probably minor.
In the OAC, the origin of the niches and cupolas was linked
by some authors (Nicod 1974; Choppy 1994) with hydrother-
mal processes. However, both forms can originate from con-
vection induced by gravitational settling of water enriched
with solute ions, without any hydrothermal influence (cf. Curl
1966; Cordingley 1991; Klimchouk 1997a). The density of
water in the phreatic zone of a karst system will increase as it
dissolves the enclosing rock. During continual or periodic in-
filtration of “fresh” water into a water-saturated environment,
a density gradient forms. This can generate convection cells in
the water body, which may produce corrosion forms in the en-
closing limestone. The effect is essentially limited to condi-
tions of static or very slow water movement. In rapidly mov-
ing water this effect will be negligible.
Convection is a differential process, the dissolution produc-
ing roof cupola- and tube-like depressions in roofs that are be-
low the waterline, horizontal ceilings (bevels) or corrosion
notches in the walls at the waterline, and inclined planar walls
beneath it. Convection circulation and solution cannot only
modify morphological forms but it can also influence the en-
tire pattern of such cave systems during their initial phases
where the waters are predominantly static or semi-static. This
feature is particularly common where there is artesian speleo-
genesis (Klimchouk 1997b).
The OAC is developed in an isolated lens of metalimestone
surrounded by non-karst rocks. Such lenses readily fill with
water during floods and drain only slowly afterwards through
poorly permeable phyllites. Corrosion notches along the walls
are produced in acidic stagnant water conditions and where
roofs dip down they will eventually be planed off as bevels at
the waterline. Stagnant water still forms a lake in the deepest
part of Hlboký Hall. Chemical analysis of the modern lake
water shows that it is highly undersaturated with respect to
both calcite and aragonite (Bella et al. 2000). The difference
of elevation between the highest bevel in the cave and the
present lake level is 12 m. Nearly horizontal bedding favoured
bevelling in Ježovitá Passage and Aragonitová záhrada, while
corrosional ledges that have developed in steeply dipping
beds indicate the corrosional origin of the bevels. Notches and
bevels commonly intersect the older speleothems, such as
those discussed above.
Planes of repose (Lange 1962, 1963; Goodman 1964) are
found in many parts of the cave (Fig. 2.3). These are the in-
clined bedrock surfaces developed in the lower portions of
cavern walls. They also formed during periods of very slow
water circulation when accumulated insolubles blocked solu-
tion enlargement at the base of a wall in a flooded section of
cave. In passages where bevels are developed, planes of re-
pose are similar to Facetten (sensu Kempe et al. 1975).
Iron ochres were formed by the weathering of ankerite/sid-
erite metasomatites. The ochres are composed principally of
goethite and a variety of autochthonous minerals deposited in
flooded cave conditions or by the dripping water. The ochres
contain on average 50 % water. They cover a substantial area
of the cave and act as an important humidity buffer stabilizing
the microclimate. The natural humidity, not affected by visi-
tors, is extremely stable (99 % in average, Klaučo et al. 1998).
Black Mn-bearing loams contain Ni-bearing asbolane and
birnessite, which developed from asbolane. Mn-oxides were
most probably formed by microbial precipitation at the bot-
tom of water bodies, as recently described by Andrejchuk &
Klimchouk (2001), that is just after the cave was drained and
fresh air entered it. Beds of allophane occur within the as-
bolane layers (Fig. 2.4). Because it forms in a low pH envi-
ronment, allophane is not a common mineral in karst caves.
We suggest that the allophane could have formed in the acidic
conditions produced by weathering of sulphide minerals. A
kaolinite group mineral similar to halloysite was formed by
maturation of allophane. The asbolane layer formed an impor-
tant geochemical barrier, which caused the concentration of
the REE, the growth of La-Nd-bearing phosphate and eventu-
ally the formation of the REE-enriched Mn oxide. Due to vari-
ations in local permeability and the diversity of sources, apa-
tite has formed only in some parts of the karst fills. In other
places the possible effect of phosphate molecular sieving led
to formation of REE-bearing phosphates. The excess of the
REE concentration became bound to Mn oxide.
The allogenic minerals, which have entered the cave are ex-
tremely fine-grained and partly weathered and abraded. They
indicate that the cave was poorly connected with the surface,
allowing only slow infiltration through narrow or choked fis-
sures, rather than direct, open communication with flowing
streams. Features of the quartz grains indicate that they have
derived from dissolution of the local limestones rather than
being transported from greater distances.
Two principal factors caused deposition of aragonite in the
OAC: (1) high concentrations of Mg, Fe and Mn ions in the
karst solutions, and (2) a closed and deeply-seated, partly
flooded cave environment with a high proportion of the walls
covered by moist Fe ochres.
The ochres act as a humidity exchanger between the walls
and the cave atmosphere. Ochtiná aragonite occurs most fre-
408 BOSÁK et al.
quently on substrates with water rising by capillary action or
with very slowly percolating water on moist sediments, which
slowly release water vapour into the cave atmosphere. A simi-
lar situation is also observed in Zbrašovské Aragonite Caves
(Czech Republic; V. Cílek unpubl.).
The isotopic composition of carbon in the aragonite, ex-
pressed the customary
C values, varies between —7.4 and
—6.0 ‰ (PDB). Oxygen isotopic composition (
found to fall within the range between —7.0 and —6.3 ‰
(PDB). The C and O isotopes thus are within the range typical
for isotopically equilibrated cave carbonates formed under the
slow, equilibrium release of CO
from solution. The graph in
Figure 5 compares aragonites from Ochtiná Cave with calcites
and aragonites from Starý hrad Cave (Nízke Tatry Mts., Slo-
vakia; Cílek & Šmejkal 1986). Ochtiná aragonites plot within
the field of the lowest values of the calcite spelothems from
Starý hrad Cave, but distinctly away from the Starý hrad ara-
gonites, indicating different depositional conditions. While
aragonite from the well-ventilated Starý hrad Cave shows in-
fluence of kinetic CO
escape from the solution, and of aque-
ous evaporation, the Ochtiná aragonite, from a closed envi-
ronment, shows an isotopic composition in the field typical
for usual “equilibrium-type” cave carbonates.
Rapid kinematic processes and evaporation can be excluded
from any role in the deposition of the aragonite. The slow iso-
topic re-equilibration of HCO
within the thin film on cave
walls and growing crystals with CO
in cave air could take
place, too. The measured data are not in isotopic equilibrium
with the CO
of the outside air. In poorly ventilated caves,
concentrations are often substantially higher than in the
external atmosphere, while the isotopic composition of that
is substantially lower than outside. The genesis of the
aragonite in the OAC cannot be completely explained until
data from direct measurement of CO
concentrations and car-
bon isotopic composition, as well as in parent solutions are
available. Nevertheless, the isotopic data show one important
result – the aragonite of the AIII generation has an identical
isotopic composition that is nearly identical to as the acicular
aragonite AII (see Fig. 5) – both types thus were deposited
under similar conditions.
The AI generation of speleothems are preserved as corroded
relics truncated by bevels (Fig. 2.2). The aragonite in them is
partly recrystallized to calcite. There were at least two sepa-
rate periods of the growth (AI/1 and AI/2). TIMS U series
ages for recrystallized calcite of the older sample (AI/1) indi-
cate an age of about 450 ka. TIMS U series ages for the arago-
nite cannot be calculated as they are at the limit of the method.
U on the other hand is not in equilibrium, implying
that the sample is certainly younger than 1.25 Ma. It is proba-
bly a little older than the calcite sample and perhaps related to
a warm episode of Elsterian 1/2.
The aragonite in the younger recrystallized speleothems
(AI/2) yielded U series dates indicating an Eemian age (138-
121 ka). The pre-recrystallization age may be greater. The AII
generation, of spiral and acicular aggregates (Fig. 2.5), began
to be deposited during Late Glacial (Alleröd, 14 ka). Growth
has continued to the present day. The AIII generation, of fine
acicular aggregates of aragonite and miniature helictites, is
also actively growing (Fig. 2.6). The AII and AIII generations
have similar isotopic compositions, indicating that they origi-
nated in conditions very similar, or identical, to those found at
present in the cave.
The modern morphology of the cave reflects a comparative-
ly complex evolution under particular lithological and hydro-
geological conditions within an isolated lens of karst rock sur-
rounded by insoluble rocks. Such lenses can become filled
with water, often with artesian confinement and have little or
no relationship to development of the surface hydrological
system and morphology. Primary phreatic subsurface cavities
were formed by the corrosion of the limestone and oxidation/
erosion of the ankerite. Elongated, chiefly horizontal cavities
formed along parallel fissures. Irregular corrosion forms de-
veloped on the bedrock surfaces. The niches and cupolas are
relics of phreatic speleogens created by convection induced
by gravitational, density-derived circulation of water in a re-
gime of very slow flow. Hydrothermal effects are not neces-
sary. The abundant pyrite together with a common allophane
indicates the carbonic acid corrosion was most probably en-
hanced by sulphide weathering producing diluted brines.
Thermohaline convection cells operating in the flooded cave
might also have influenced the wall morphology.
Younger corrosional events under vadose conditions
changed the original forms to a large extent. The intensity of
corrosion was enhanced by carbon dioxide released by anker-
Fig. 5. The isotopic composition of calcite and aragonites from the
well ventilated Starý hrad Cave in the Nízke Tatry Mts compared
with the closed deeper system of Ochtiná Aragonite Cave. Very
slow evaporation and isotopic equilibrium fractionation is proposed
for the samples from Ochtiná (AII and AIII aragonite generations).
O (‰, PDB)
C (‰, PDB)
Starý Hrad Cave - calcite
Starý Hrad Cave - aragonite
Starý Hrad Cave - calcite and aragonite (mixture)
Ochtinská Cave - aragonite
OCHTINÁ ARAGONITE CAVE 409
ite weathering in the oxidizing meteoric waters. The water-
level fluctuations were repeated several times as indicated by
several levels of flat roofs (bevels), wall niches and planes of
repose. Bevels form by corrosion in stagnant water condi-
tions. Roof planation was influenced both by limestone bed-
ding and by the duration and intensity of water convection.
Bevels intersected older speleothems. Corrosion notches
along the walls indicate that the levels of stagnant water were
stable for long periods, representing significant phases of cave
enlargement. Planes of repose also indicate slow water circu-
lation following floods; accumulated insolubles blocked solu-
tion enlargement at the base of a cave wall.
Water-level oscillations and water flow have to be very
slow, as indicated by the fact that the sediment section studied
in Oválna Passage survived several submergences. Neverthe-
less, the velocity of flow during the early phases of the cave
evolution had to be sufficient to transport the clastic products
of the ankerite disintegration into lower levels of the cave.
Dating this sequence of processes is a complicated and
risky task. We can assert that the cave started to form before
0.78 Ma according to the paleomagnetic data from the oldest
dated cave fill in Oválna Passage (Table 4). The roof of that
passage is the highest preserved bevel to have developed un-
der the succeeding vadose conditions. We may tentatively
link the formation of this highest bevel with the oldest sedi-
mentary fill. Therefore, vadose conditions probably were es-
tablished 0.78 Ma. The phreatic phase of cave development
has to be older (Late Tertiary/Pleistocene), but it cannot be
dated properly. It appears that the age of cave origin is close
to that suggested by Kubíny (1959) and Homza et al. (1970).
The sequence of cave development summarized in Table 4 is
based primarily on the U series dating of flowstones and ara-
Acknowledgements: The authors wish to express their thanks
especially to Dipl.-Ing. Jozef Hlaváč, Director of the Slovak
Caves Administration in Liptovský Mikuláš and Mr. Ján
Ujházy, Head of the Ochtiná Aragonite Cave for permission
to conduct research and to take samples during a period of
1996 to 2001. We acknowledge the contribution of: Dr. Karel
Melka and Mr. Jiří Dobrovolný (X-ray analyses and interpre-
tations), Dipl-Ing. Anna Langrová (microprobe analyses; all
from Laboratory of Physical Methods, Institute of Geology,
AS CR Prague), Dr. Daniela Venhodová (production and
evaluation of palaeomagnetic data; Department of Palaeo-
magnetism, Insitute of Geology AS CR Prague), Dr. Karel
Žák (stable isotopic analyses; Czech Geological Survey, De-
partment of Geochemistry, Prague), and Dr. Jana Ederová
(DTA-GTA analyses, University of Chemical Technology,
Prague). The research was carried out under the Agreement on
Scientific Co-operation between the Slovak Caves Adminis-
tration and the Institute of Geology AS CR. Costs were cov-
Corrosion, bevels and
deposition of sediments
Asbolane as a product of sulphide
weathering by oxidising waters
Erosion/redepositon of cave
fill, possible bevels
Periods of water highstands not excluded,
released from ankerite
decomposition in oxidising waters
Speleothems, the oldest
Calcite recrystallized from aragonite
prevails and is somewhat younger than
aragonite (ca. 50 ka)
Corrosion, bevels, cut of rocky
of cave fill
Highstand and fluctuations
released from ankerite
decomposition in oxidising waters
Flowstone on sedimentary
erosion/redeposition of cave
released from ankerite
decomposition in oxidising waters
(162 calculated age)
(115 calculated age)
Aragonite speleothems, the
oldest generation AI/2
Only partly recrystallized to calcite
erosion/redeposition of cave
Corrosional vugs in 138 –121 ka old
speleothems contain mica and quartz
Aragonite growth, AII
Aragonite growth, the AIII
Water level oscillations not excluded,
max. ca. 8 m
Table 4: Succession of processes during origin of Ochtiná Aragonite Cave.
410 BOSÁK et al.
ered from sources of the Caves Administration (Task B. of the
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Z 03-013-912 of the Institute of Geology AS CR, and Grant
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grant in aid of research from the National Scientific and Engi-
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