Hydrochemical studies of the Plitvice Lakes and their tributaries (Croatia/Yugoslavia) were coupled with micromorphological investigations on carbonate lake sediments and recent travertines. Karst springs discharge water from aquifers in Triassic and Jurassic dolomites and limestones and collect in lakes, which are ponded behind accreting travertine dams. Waters at springs have a high CO2 partial-pressure (greater than 7000 ppm) and are slightly undersaturated with respect to calcite (saturation index less than —0·03). CO2 partial pressure is quickly reduced in swift running streams, leading to very high supersaturation with carbonate minerals (saturation indices between 0·74 and 0·53). Calcite deposition, however, is restricted to the lake bottoms (formation of lake marl) and to the tufa dams. The annual carbonate precipitating capacity of the system based on water balance and downstream loss of dissolved ions is estimated to be on the order of 10 000 t CaCO3 as cascade deposits (tufa dams) or as micrite in lakes behind the travertine dams. The initial stages of travertine formation as a result of morphological, biological, and chemical factors are (i) moss settling on small ridges in the creek courses, (ii) epiphytes (diatoms and cyanobacteria) settling on the moss surface, (iii) micrite particles resuspending from lake bottoms and being trapped on mucous excretions from bacteria and diatoms, and (iv) inorganic calcite precipitating as sparite at nucleation sites provided by these crystal seeds. Geochemical studies of the lake marl and tufa dams show that amino acids are dominated by aspartic acid. Carbohydrates come from structural polysaccharides of diatoms. The sticky excretions, rich in aspartic acid, are necessary for the initiation of calcite precipitation. They may be a response of algal and bacterial metabolism to environmental stress by either nutrient depletion or high calcium concentrations in ambient waters. The formation of tufa and micrite (lake marl) appears to be initiated by localized biological factors and is not governed by mere calcite supersaturation of the water. Oligotrophy may be an essential precondition for the formation of fresh water carbonate deposits.