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Keywords:

  • Cave development;
  • geopetal structures;
  • reef cavities;
  • reef morphology;
  • resedimentation

An area of reef margin collapse, gully formation and gully fill sedimentation has been identified and mapped within Left Hand Tunnel, Carlsbad Caverns. It demonstrates that the Capitan Reef did not, at all times, form an unbroken border to the Delaware Basin. Geopetally arranged sediments within cavities from sponge–algal framestones of the reef show that the in situ reef today has a 10° basinwards structural dip. Similar dips in adjacent back-reef sediments, previously considered depositional, probably also have a structural origin. Reoriented geopetal structures have also allowed the identification of a 200-m-wide, 25-m-deep gully within the reef, which has been filled by large (some  >15 m), randomly orientated and, in places, overturned blocks and boulders, surrounded by finer reef rubble, breccias and grainstones. Block supply continued throughout gully filling, implying that spalling of reef blocks was a longer term process and was not a by-product of the formation of the gully. Gully initiation was probably the result of a reef front collapse, with a continued instability of the gully bordering reef facies demonstrated by their incipient brecciation and by faults containing synsedimentary fills. Gully filling probably occurred during reef growth, and younger reef has prograded over the gully fill. Blocks contain truncated former aragonite botryoidal cements, indicating early aragonite growth within the in situ reef. In contrast, former high-magnesian calcite rind cements post-date sedimentation within the gully. The morphology of cavern passages is controlled by reef facies variation, with narrower passages cut into the in situ reef and wider passages within the gully fill. Gully fills may also constitute more permeable zones in the subsurface.