A Holocene calcrete from North Yorkshire, England: implications for interpreting palaeoclimates using calcretes



Glacial gravels of Late Devensian Dimlington Stadial age (26 000–13 000 years BP) at West Tanfield, North Yorkshire, England, have been cemented by carbonate-rich solutions to produce a strongly indurated calcrete horizon. The low-Mg cements occur as drusy spar, needle fibres, alveolar septal structures, micrite and micropinnacles, indicative of vadose-zone cementation. Some complex pore partition structures attributed to precipitation along meniscus films also occur. These partitions separate air-dominated and water-dominated microenvironments of the vadose zone. The abundance of vadose fabrics shows that the accumulation is not a groundwater calcrete. In addition, much of the carbonate appears to have been precipitated by biological mediation.

Carbon and oxygen isotopic data suggest that the carbonate did not form as a result of freezing, as has been suggested for some ‘arctic’soil carbonates. The pollen history of the area since the Devensian suggests that this calcrete precipitated at low temperatures; this contrasts with widely reported occurrences of calcrete in soils of hot arid or semi-arid regions, and suggests that palaeo-calcretes should not be used as absolute palaeoclimatic indicators.

The unusual occurrence, albeit localized, of a thick calcrete under a cool and wet climate probably reflects the well-drained nature of the gravels, the abundance of CaCO3 as limestone clasts in the gravel and a high degree of biological activity beneath a forest cover, which created a local environment favouring carbonate precipitation.