The origin of magnetic remanence in stalagmites: Observations from electron microscopy and rock magnetism

TitleThe origin of magnetic remanence in stalagmites: Observations from electron microscopy and rock magnetism
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsStrauss BE, Strehlau JH, Lascu I, Dorale JA, Penn RL, Feinberg JM
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems

Speleothems, especially stalagmites, hold great potential as recorders of the Earth’s ancient magnetic field. However, our understanding of the magnetic mineral assemblages within speleothems is not well-developed. We present tandem rock magnetic characterization of bulk samples and electron microscopy of magnetic extracts from five North American stalagmites. Magnetite and goethite are present in all samples, albeit in varying abundances and morphologies. Magnetite grains are likely detrital, showing evidence of transport and weathering, including plumose markings and etch pits. These grains are unlikely to have precipitated abiotically in the cave environment. Titanomagnetite and exsolved intergrowths of Fe-Ti oxides indicate that a significant portion of the magnetic mineral assemblage is allochthonous and was transported into the caves. These Ti-rich grains display a range of morphologies from euhedral to well-rounded, indicating that earlier morphological models for speleothem magnetization do not apply in all geologic settings. Goethite was observed in three morphologies: isolated needles, needle aggregates, and polycrystalline aggregates of randomly oriented nanoscale grains. The magnetite and titanomagnetite, as well as their partially oxidized equivalents, likely hold a depositional remanent magnetization (DRM), whereas if goethite grains were precipitated in situ on the stalagmite drip surface, they are more likely to hold a chemical remanent magnetization (CRM) because of their small size and low saturation magnetization. Until the remanence of goethite can be shown to be paleomagnetically meaningful, we propose that paleomagnetic studies of speleothems include a 150 °C thermal demagnetization step to remove any goethite remanence.