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Speleothems typically form in limestone or dolostone solutional caves.
The term "speleothem" as first introduced by Moore (1952), is derived from the Greek words spēlaion "cave" théma "deposit".
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; Ancient Greek: "cave deposit") — commonly known as cave formations — are secondary mineral deposits formed in a cave.
Weaker flows and short travel distances form more narrow stalagmites, while heavier flow and a greater fall distance tends to form more broad ones.
Additionally, drip rate counting and trace element analysis on the water drops themselves have been shown to record shorter-term variations in the climate at high resolution, such as drought conditions attributed to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate events.
Unfortunately, not all the samples are suited for ESR dating: indeed, the presence of cationic impurities such as Mn, humic acids (organic matter), can mask the signal of interest, or interfere with it.
Moreover, the radiation centers must be stable on geologic time, i.e., to have a very large lifetime, to make dating possible.
Variations in precipitation alter the width of new ring formation, where close ring formation shows little rainfall, and wider spacing for heavier rainfall.
The geometrical way in which stalagmites grow is also used in paleoclimate applications, which varies based on the height the water is falling from, and the rate of flow.
Many factors impact the shape and color of speleothem formations including the rate and direction of water seepage, the amount of acid in the water, the temperature and humidity content of a cave, air currents, the above ground climate, the amount of annual rainfall and the density of the plant cover.