Sources and transport of microbial tetraether membrane lipids in Karst Systems

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Catherine Jex1, Alison J Blyth2, James McDonald3, Martijn Woltering4, Stuart Khan3 and Andy Baker1, (1)UNSW Australia, Connected Waters Initiative Research Centre, Sydney, Australia, (2)Curtin University, Perth, WA, Australia, (3)University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, (4)CSIRO Earth Science and Resource Engineering Perth, Perth, WA, Australia
Speleothems preserve organic biomarkers, proxies for surface climate. Microbial-derived lipids, specifically glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraetheral (GDGT) lipids have been identified in cave deposits and shown to correlate well with surface air temperature using the archaea-derived isoprenoid ‘(i)GDGT’ index of TEX86 and the bacteria derived branched ‘(b)GDGT’ index of MBT/CBT of modern speleothems [1]. Two competing sources for GDGTs in karst systems have been suggested: 1) A soil derived microbial signal dominated by bGDGTs; and 2) An in situ signal dominated by iGDGTs, representative of archaea existing within the cave or overlying bedrock [2].

These findings are yet to be thoroughly tested by characterising the seasonal nature of GDGTs in caves to establish the source and transport pathways within these complex fractured rock systems. Here, we address this and present the results of a yearlong monitoring campaign of GDGTs within two contrasting cave sites from the Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko national park, SE Australia. The caves are located at a high altitude, semi-arid site. Harriewood cave is dominated by discrete infiltration events throughout the year. Above the cave there are thin soils consisting of loose shallow scree, steep slopes and sparse shrub vegetation. The surface above Jillabenan is characterised by thick red clays of moderate to no slope and Eucalypt dominated forest. As such, these caves provide ideal test sites to characterise the variability in GDGT signals that may be a result of non-temperature related factors, including varying inputs (groundwater vs. in situ growth) or site-specific hydrological conditions. We present data obtained from within the cave: drip waters and in situ collection of GDGTs formed on filter papers left inside the cave throughout the year, and externally sourced signals from soils and their leachates. We also identify key differences in soil pH and cave air temperatures that are best predicted by using cave specific GDGT calibrations of [1].

[1] Blyth et al. 2013. Calibrating the glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether temperature signal in speleothems. Geochim Cosmochim Ac. 109, 312-328.

[2] Blyth et al. 2014. Contrasting distributions of glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) in speleothems and associated soils, Org Geochem, 69, 1-10.