Growing up near Pyramid and Mono Lakes I am pretty familiar with tufa and tufa towers. I am not so familiar with travertine however, I have heard of it, but never really thought about how it was formed and it's relation to tufa.
The other day I was reading a book and it was discussing travertine. It stated that "As water moves through faults it is enriched in calcium and bicarbonate from the enclosing limestone rocks...carbon dioxide escapes as gas and bicarbonate combines with calcium to precipitate as travertine, a calcium carbonate." It also discussed how travertine deposits form a variety of shapes such as mounds and towers. Hmmmm, sounds quite similar to tufa to me. That got me thinking, what is the difference between travertine and tufa?
What is Tufa?
Tufa is a rock composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), essentially limestone, that forms at the mouth of a spring, from lake water, or form a mixture of spring and lake water. Most of the tufa at Pyramid Lake formed between 26,000 and 13,000 years ago. when the area was much wetter and Pyramid was joined to lakes in nearby basins.
Tufa mounds form when springs discharged from the bottom of a lake, supplying calcium that combines with carbonate dissolved in lake water to form the mounds. The thickest tufa deposits form near lake-bottom sites of ground-water discharge, and at overflow elevations where the lake was held near-constant levels for long periods of time.
What is Travertine?
Travertine is a terrestrial sedimentary rock, formed by the precipitation of carbonate minerals from solution in ground and surface waters, and/or geothermally heated hot-springs.
Like tufa, travertine is a form calcium carbonate (CaCO3) limestone deposited by mineral springs, especially hot springs. Travertine exists in white, tan, cream-colored, and even rusty varieties. It is formed by a process of rapid precipitation of calcium carbonate, often at the mouth of a hot spring or in a limestone cave. In the latter, it can form stalactites, stalagmites, and other speleothems.
Tufa and Travertine are similar, but tufa is softer and more porous than travertine. Tufa has a higher porosity, woody texture, and is generally a cool fresh water deposit. Conversely, travertine is commonly deposited in warm water and is more lithified, hard and smooth.
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