Coastal karst is characterized by special geomorphologic and hydrodynamic conditions as well as by peculiar sedimentary, geochemical, and biospeleological environments. Generally, the more distinctive karstic features produced near the coastline are strongly influenced by sea-level changes, which generate a broad set of interactions between littoral processes and karst development. The glacioeustatic rises and falls of sea level affected the littoral karst in different ways, namely: vertical and horizontal shifts in the shoreline position, changes in elevation of the local water table, and vertical displacements of the halocline. Most eogenetic karsts have been subjected over long time spans to repeated changes of a variety of vertically-zoned geochemical environments: vadose, phreatic meteoric-water, brackish mixing-waters and even marine water. Many coastal caves appear to be passively drowned by Holocene sea-level rise, and to contain glacioeustatic pools of varied size where the current water table intersects formerly air-filled chambers or passages. These coastal phreatic waters are controlled by sea level and fluctuate with tides. Significantly, features such as phreatic speleothems that are able to record ancient sea levels occur closely associated to the surface of the pools. The cave pools are brackish or even marine anchialine environments that contain remarkable communities of troglobitic stygofauna. All of these aspects can be studied in detail along the southern and eastern coast of Mallorca Island owing to the widespread outcrop of Upper Miocene calcarenites, in which the development of eogenetic karst features started approximately 6 Ma ago, at the end of Messinian times. Some outstanding coastal caves result and include the celebrated Coves del Drac (explored by E.A. Martel in 1896), the labyrinthine Cova des Pas de Vallgornera (more than 30 km in length) and the recently explored Cova de sa Gleda (whose submerged passages exceed 10 km, as shown by scuba-diving surveys). Careful observations and detailed mapping of caves in the Upper Miocene reef rocks of Mallorca permit a better understanding of the coastal speleogenetic processes involved in a typical eogenetic karst over time ranges greater than 1 Ma. The role played by recurrent glacioeustatic oscillations of sea level and the subsequent rises and falls of the water table are emphasized in our model. There are two associated mechanisms: the triggering of breakdown by the loss of buoyant support that follows each lowering of sea level (i.e., during glaciations or smaller cold events) and the later underwater solution of boulders and collapse debris (during high sea levels that correspond to interglacial events). Additionally, tidal fluctuations affecting groundwaters would enhance solutional enlargement of caves and vug-porosity connected to the sea, rather than conventional karstic flow through conduits that probably is not as important an agent in eogenetic speleogenesis.
Ginés, Angel and Joaquín Ginés.
Eogenetic karst, glacioeustatic cave pools and anchialine environments on Mallorca Island: a discussion of coastal speleogenesis.
International Journal of Speleology,
Available at: http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/ijs/vol36/iss2/1