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Travertine Hot Springs: Formation, Location and Travertine Extraction

What is Travertine?

Travertine’s name is derived from Tibur which was the former name of Tivoli. The stone was originally named lapis tiburtinus which means tibur stone and was later changed to travertino from where we got today’s travertine. Travertine is a unique type of limestone deposited by mineral springs such as hot springs. Travertine mostly has a concentric appearance and fibrous texture. It is available in colors such as white, tan, beige, and a variety of red and coral shades. 

Travertine Hot Springs:

Travertine is made by a very specific procedure which involves rapid precipitation of calcium carbonate. The process is often completed at the beginning point of the hot spring or in a limestone cave. In the latter, it can also form by-products such as stalactites, stalagmites, and other speleothems. It is a popular building material all around the world. 

It is an earthly rock, formed by the precipitation of raw materials composed of carbonate found in the ground waters and geo-thermally heated hot-springs. 

Formation:

Formed in geothermal springs, travertine is often connected to siliceous structures that form siliceous sinter. Colonial organisms such as macrophytes, bryophytes, algae, cyanobacteria often preserve the exterior surface of travertine by covering it and providing it with its porous texture.

In some hot springs, the high temperature eliminates the macrophytes and bryophytes from the deposits. As a result of the exclusion the deposits turn out to be less permeable than tufa. Thermophilic microbes are important in these environments and stromatolitic fabrics are more abundant. Deposits that are evidently lacking any biological component are often referred to as calcareous sinter.

Elevated levels of carbon dioxide and geothermally heated supersaturated basic waters are two mandatory requirements for the formation of contemporary travertine. The waters later de-gas carbon dioxide due to the lower atmospheric carbon dioxide, resulting in an upsurge in pH levels.

Decrease in increased basic nature, caused by carbonate solubility, induces precipitation. The precipitation process may be influenced by multiple factors leading to a drop in carbon dioxide, for example, an increment in the air and water interaction at waterfalls may be as  important as photosynthesis. In some hot springs, precipitation may be boosted by evaporation.

Two types of carbonate minerals found in travertine hot springs are calcite and aragonite. Calcite is dominant at lower temperatures, while higher temperatures are more accommodating for aragonite. Travertine in its purest form is white but is often brown to yellow due to impurities.

Location and Extraction:

Texas’s city Austin and its nearby areas to the south are built on limestone. There is a bountiful amount of travertine deposits in the area, such as those found at Gorman Falls within Colorado Bend State Park. In Colorado, Glenwood Canyon has travertine deposits with aqua blue water, while Rifle Falls State Park features a triple waterfall over a travertine dam.

The Havasu Creek flowing through the Havasupai Reservation, on the south side of the Grand Canyon, in the state of Arizona, has an abundant deposits of travertine. Downstream from the town of Supai are situated the Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, and Mooney Falls.

The most famous location for abundant travertine deposits in the U.S. is the Yellowstone National Park, in Oklahoma.  The cascade of Turner Falls has spring water flowing over a travertine cave. Honey Creek nourishes this waterfall and creates a plentiful amount travertine deposits in both upward and downward directions by mimicking the travertine formation effect.

Travertine has its renowned quarries like the old quarry of Bernini in Guidonia, which have been present since Ancient Roman times and the quarries in Tivoli and Guidonia Montecelio in Italy. The latter is historically important because it was one of the quarries from which Gian Lorenzo Bernini selected material to build the famous Colonnade of St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

Italian painter and architect Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni also chose travertine as the material for the outer beams of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. Comprehensive studies of the Tivoli and Guidonia travertine deposits revealed diurnal and yearly rhythmic banding and laminae, which are likely to be used in geo-chronology.

In Huanglong, Sichuan, beautiful waterfalls of lakes are formed behind travertine dams. In a valley in Croatia, travertine has formed sixteen huge, natural dams known as Plitvice Lakes National Park. The travertine clinging to rocks has built up over several ages to form waterfalls up to 70 m in height.

Travertine is extracted from all these locations in the form of huge blocks and shipped off to factories for further cutting into pavers, tiles, slabs and mosaics.

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