KGS geologists receive funding to study cave passage formation in dolomites
April 5, 2021
KGS received $25,000 in seed grant funding from the National Cave and Karst Research Institute for a new project, “Controls of Dolomitization on Matrix Porosity and its Effect on Cave Passage Formation as Inferred From Numerical Simulations Based on Geochemical and Experimental Analyses,” led by Dr. Gina Lukoczki of the Energy and Minerals Section. Dolomite is a calcium-magnesium carbonate mineral similar to calcite, the mineral that forms limestone. As with limestone, caves and other karst features develop in dolomite-rich rocks, but geoscientists do not have a complete understanding of how the presence of dolomite affects this process. This research is a collaboration between Dr. Lukoczki and Dr. Ben Tobin of the KGS Water Resources Section; the goal is to gain more insight into this question of the relationship between dolomite and cave-passage formation by studying dolomitic layers in Kentucky caves.
The research team will collect a variety of dolomite samples from Mammoth Cave and from the Edward Mountain Cave System in eastern Kentucky. They will also record observations about the cave morphology and rock layers from sampled locations. In the lab, Lukoczki will investigate fundamental characteristics of the cave-hosting dolomites, such as the fabric of the original sediment, the texture and porosity of the dolomites, and geochemical characteristics, which will help identify the processes that resulted in dolomitization. They will also conduct dissolution and numerical simulation experiments in collaboration with Dr. Benjamin Tutolo of the University of Calgary. This unique approach will combine methods that will help the research team gain greater insight into the processes that lead to the formation of caves and karst in dolomites.
A better understanding of how dolomite dissolves and forms caves has implications not only for the science of cave and karst development but also for a wide range of topics, including oil and gas reservoir development, CO2 sequestration, and the erosion of building materials.