Hang Son Doong (HSD), or Mountain River Cave, in the Quang Binh province of Vietnam, is considered to be the largest cave passage in the world. It has continuous widths near 100 m, and heights locally exceeding 200 m in a passage >6.5 km long. HSD is one of many extremely large caves in the tropical karst of the Ke Bang massif, a massively bedded limestone surrounded by metamorphic and clastic sedimentary rocks. Why are these caves so large? Is it because they are young and rapidly formed, or instead did they form slowly in exceptionally strong bedrock? To address these questions it is necessary to examine the style and timing of speleogenesis. Hang Son Doong was formed by an allogenic river sinking along a straight subvertical fault. The cave is formed largely within a brecciated fault zone that extends up to 100 m wide. A relict karst valley indicates that speleogenesis occurred due to wholesale capture of the surface river. The cave pattern is strongly fault-controlled with few branches, consistent with a primarily allogenic rather than distributed recharge. The cave is punctuated by two collapse dolines, one of which impedes discharge today. Massive slackwater deposits perhaps 100 m thick accumulated upstream of this doline collapse, and are overlain by corroded flowstone. To place some time constraints on speleogenesis, two samples were collected for cosmogenic nuclide burial dating with 26Al and 10Be in allogenic quartz. One was from the slackwater deposits, and another from a breccia-filled tributary passage at a fault junction. Both samples postdate cave formation, and can only be used to place minimum ages on the cave. Cosmogenic nuclide concentrations are very low, leading to large uncertainties in the ages. Nonetheless, the burial ages yield some important information. Initial results indicate that the slackwater deposits formed recently, during the past 300 ky. The filled passage, on the other hand, is much older and dates to the Pliocene. Re-analyses underway will hopefully improve dating precision. Based on the breccia-filled passage, the age of HSD is at least 2 My, and possibly much older. This is consistent with ages from other large caves around the world, such as the Mammoth Cave system and large caves of the Cumberland Plateau in the southeastern United States, which date to the Pliocene and late Miocene. The very large cave passages of Hang Son Doong and the Ke Bang massif thus likely formed slowly over millions of years with only moderately large discharge, and owe their preservation primarily to rock strength.
AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
- Pub Date:
- December 2011
- 1105 GEOCHRONOLOGY / Quaternary geochronology;
- 1824 HYDROLOGY / Geomorphology: general