• Barrage tufas;
  • facies modelling;
  • ground-penetrating radar;
  • palaeoenvironment

Unlithified and partly lithified carbonate sequences are ideally suited to the application of ground-penetrating radar (GPR), augmented by percussion augering and shallow seismic techniques, all tied to present-day topography using global positioning system (GPS) methods. This methodology provides the first clear information on the distribution and geometry of lithofacies within buried tufa complexes. The approach has been applied to a thick succession of Holocene tufas filling a gorge site along a 3·5-km length of the River Lathkill, north Derbyshire. Earlier studies have demonstrated the presence of up to 16 m of tufas and sapropels associated with two transverse tufa dams (barrages). These strata have been accumulating throughout the Holocene, although tufa developments at present are of minor extent. Internal tufa morphologies are recorded by GPR as ‘bright’, laterally continuous reflections for lithified, concretionary and lithoclast-rich horizons. The ‘brightest’ reflectors occur within well-cemented barrages and delineate core areas and prograding buttress zones. In contrast, unlithified lime muds and sapropels produce low-contrast reflections. Lithostratigraphic control and depth calibration of the GPR profiles was provided by percussion augering at selected sites. Six distinct lithofacies and four secondary barrages are identified in the study. Constructional and destructional events can be identified and correlated within the GPR profile network, and the internal growth morphologies of the barrages are apparent. GPR profiles also clearly define the evolution of the facies geometries. Three phases of tufa development can be recognized within the GPR data and greatly extend our understanding of Holocene tufa-forming processes in valley sites: (a) Early Holocene barrage build-ups but with limited paludal deposition; (b) Middle Holocene ponding and sapropel accumulation under ‘warm’ conditions; and (c) Late Holocene barrage termination and valley levelling, probably coincidental with anthropogenic activity. This type of multidisciplinary approach should be considered as an essential prerequisite to all biostratigraphic and geochemical studies of Holocene freshwater carbonate sites.