07 Jul 2022
07 Jul 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Mountain permafrost in the Central Pyrenees: insights from the Devaux ice cave

Miguel Bartolomé1, Gérard Cazenave2, Marc Luetscher3, Christoph Spötl4, Fernando Gázquez5,6, Ánchel Belmonte7, Alexandra V. Turchyn8, Juan Ignacio López-Moreno1, and Ana Moreno1 Miguel Bartolomé et al.
  • 1Departamento de Procesos Geoambientales y Cambio Global, Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología-CSIC, Zaragoza, Spain
  • 2Société de Spéléologie et de Préhistoire des Pyrénées Occidentales (SSPPO), 5 allée du Grand Tour, 64000 PAU, France
  • 3Swiss Institute for Speleology and Karst Studies (SISKA), La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
  • 4Institute of Geology, University of Innsbruck, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria
  • 5Water Resources and Environmental Geology Research Group, Department of Biology and Geology, University of Almería, Almería, Spain
  • 6Andalusian Centre for the Monitoring and Assessment of Global Change (CAESCG), University of Almería, Almería, Spain
  • 7Sobrarbe-Pirineos UNESCO Global Geopark. Boltaña. Spain
  • 8Godwin Laboratory for Palaeoclimate Research, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Abstract. Ice caves are one of the least studied parts of the cryosphere, particularly those located in inaccessible permafrost areas at high altitudes or high latitudes. We characterize the climate dynamics and the geomorphological features of Devaux cave, an outstanding ice cave in the Central Pyrenees on the French-Spanish border. Two distinct cave sectors were identified based on air temperature and geomorphological observations. The first one comprises well-ventilated galleries with large temperature oscillations likely influenced by a cave river. The second sector corresponds to more isolated chambers, where air and rock temperatures stay below 0 ºC throughout the year. Seasonal layered ice and hoarfrost occupy the first sector, while transparent, massive perennial ice is present in the isolated chambers. Cryogenic calcite and gypsum are mainly present within the perennial ice. During winter, the cave river freezes at the outlet, resulting in a damming and back-flooding of the cave. We suggest that relict ice formations record past damming events with subsequent congelation. δ34S values of gypsum indicate that the sulfate originated from the oxidation of pyrite present in the bedrock. Several features including the air and rock temperatures, the absence of drips, the low loss of ice, and the location of ice bodies in the cave indicate the cave permafrost is the result of a combination of undercooling by ventilation and diffusive heat transfer from the surrounding permafrost, reaching ~200 m below the surface.

Miguel Bartolomé et al.

Status: open (until 08 Sep 2022)

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Miguel Bartolomé et al.

Miguel Bartolomé et al.


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Short summary
In this work we study the microclimate and the geomorphological features of Devaux ice cave in the Central Pyrenees. The research is based on cave monitoring, geomorphology, and geochemical analyses. We infer two different thermal regimes. The cave is impacted by flooding in late winter/early spring when the main outlets freeze, damming the water inside. The absence of dripwater and rock temperature are indicative of frozen bedrock, while relict ice formations record past damming events.