Holocene flood frequency reconstruction from speleothems in northern Spain

Saúl González-Lemos, Wolfgang Müller, Jorge Pisonero, Hai Cheng, R. Lawrence Edwards, Heather M. Stoll

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9 Scopus citations


Extreme precipitation events may cause flooding in the subsurface as well as surficial drainage networks, and these flood events may be preserved in the speleothem archive. We describe here a study of stalagmites from the Cueva Rosa, a system with a perennial cave stream in a lower active level and abundant speleothems in a fossil gallery 6-8 m above the active level. Several constrictions in the lower level act as bottlenecks at discharges of 8-11 m3/s during high discharge events, flooding both lower and upper galleries. Because the cave stream is the only efflux for the small surface watershed (1 km2), it is possible to estimate the critical rainfall intensity rates and runoff required to flood the upper gallery. In the upper gallery, historical flooding is constrained by 14C dates of wood fragments which register both a both post-bomb event and event at 420 yr BP. The latter event appears to coincide with deposition of thick mud deposit postdated by speleothem growth since 324 yr BP. A mid-Holocene (8.1-5.3 ka BP) speleothem from the upper gallery contains 26 detrital layers composed of clays and quartz grains evident in sectioned stalagmites and in Al content in LA-ICPMS analyses. The 9 most pronounced layers reach a thickness of 0.1-0.3 mm in the central growth axis. Petrography confirms that calcite crystal growth is continuous through these detrital layers and that they represent decantation events rather than hiatus in calcite deposition. In the mid-Holocene, large events have average recurrence of around 300 years, although large events are absent from the period from 7.3 to 6.3 ka and more frequent in the older and younger portions of the stalagmite. In the last four centuries, two major events have partially buried an actively growing stalagmite, showing that extreme precipitation events capable of flooding the upper gallery remain a persistent feature of the climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-140
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by grant MEC CGL2010-16376 and FICYT IB08-072C1 , both to H.M.S. We thank Ugo Zoppi for attention to 14 C dating. Also to Laura Rodríguez-Rodríguez, Ana Méndez-Vicente, and Daniel Ballesteros for collaboration in field sampling and cave mapping. The study was conceived by H.M.S. for doctoral thesis of S.G.L; S.G.L. conducted fieldwork. U/Th dating was done under direction of H.C and R.L.E; LA-ICPMS analyses was done under supervision of J.P and W.M.; S.G.L. and H.M.S. wrote the paper.


  • Cave flooding
  • Flood events
  • Holocene
  • Karst
  • Stalagmite records


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