The flank margin model for dissolution cave development in carbonate platforms



The Bahama Islands contain many abandoned dissolution caves at elevations between two and seven metres above current sea level. The development of dissolution caves in tropical carbonate islands is dependent on the position and nature of the freshwater lens. Lens position is controlled by sea level, which in stable carbonate platforms like the Bahamas is a function of glacioeustatic sea level still stands. Caves in the Bahamas that are currently subaerial must have developed during past higher sea levels. During the Late Quaternary, sea levels higher than present have been relatively short-lived, and that limits the amount of time that a freshwater lens could be situated at the elevation required for the cave formation. The Bahama Islands are low-lying landforms where only aeolian ridges extend to elevations higher than six metres above current sea level. Past high sea level events greatly reduced the exposed land area of the Bahama Islands, thus also limiting both the catchment for and size of freshwater lenses. Caves must be younger than the rock in which they are developed; most subaerial Bahamian caves are found in limestones that are less than 150000 years old. Development of large dissolution caves under these limitations of time and lens size requires a powerful dissolutional mechanism. The mixing of discharging freshwater with tide-pulsed incoming marine water under the flanks of emergent dune ridges may have produced the conditions necessary. Bahamian caves formed by this process are phreatic chambers with complex interconnections and blind tubes. Their presence demonstrates that significant dissolution can occur rapidly as a result of the mixing of fresh and marine waters beneath small carbonate islands.