Tufa is a variety of limestone formed when carbonate minerals precipitate out of water in unheated rivers or lakes. Geothermally heated hot springs sometimes produce similar (but less porous) carbonate deposits, which are known as travertine. Tufa is sometimes referred to as (meteogene) travertine.[1] It should not be confused with hot spring (thermogene) travertine. Tufa, which is calcareous, should also not be confused with tuff, a porous volcanic rock with a similar etymology that is sometimes also called "tufa".

Tufa columns at Mono Lake, California

Classification and features


Modern and fossil tufa deposits abound with wetland plants;[2] as such, many tufa deposits are characterised by their large macrobiological component, and are highly porous. Tufa forms either in fluvial channels or in lacustrine environments. Ford and Pedley (1996)[3] provide a review of tufa systems worldwide.

Barrage Tufa at Cwm Nash, South Wales

Fluvial deposits


Deposits can be classified by their depositional environment (or otherwise by vegetation or petrographically). Pedley (1990)[4] provides an extensive classification system, which includes the following classes of fluvial tufa:

  • Spring – Deposits form on emergence from a spring/seep. Morphology can vary from mineratrophic wetlands to spring aprons (see calcareous sinter)
  • Braided channel – Deposits form within a fluvial channel, dominated by oncoids (see oncolite)
  • Cascade – Deposits form at waterfalls, deposition is focused here due to accelerated flow (see Geochemistry)
  • Barrage – Deposits form as a series of phytoherm barrages across a channel, which may grow up to several metres in height. Barrages often contain a significant detrital component, composed of organic material (leaf litter, branches etc.).
Rubaksa tufa plug, after drying of the river, in Ethiopia

Lacustrine deposits


Lacustrine tufas are generally formed at the periphery of lakes and built-up phytoherms (freshwater reefs), and on stromatolites. Oncoids are also common in these environments.

Calcareous sinter


Although sometimes regarded as a distinct carbonate deposit, calcareous sinter formed from ambient temperature water can be considered a sub-type of tufa.

Huanglong, Sichuan, China



Calcareous speleothems may be regarded as a form of calcareous sinter. They lack any significant macrophyte component due to the absence of light, and for this reason they are often morphologically closer to travertine or calcareous sinter.

Tufa at Trona Pinnacles, California



Tufa columns are an unusual form of tufa typically associated with saline lakes. They are distinct from most tufa deposits in that they lack any significant macrophyte component, due to the salinity excluding mesophilic organisms.[3] Some tufa columns may actually form from hot-springs, and may therefore constitute a form of travertine. It is generally thought that such features form from CaCO3 precipitated when carbonate rich source waters emerge into alkaline soda lakes. They have also been found in marine settings in the Ikka fjord of Greenland where the Ikaite columns can reach up to 18 m (59 ft) in height.[5]



Tufa deposits form an important habitat for a diverse flora. Bryophytes (mosses, liverworts etc.) and diatoms are well represented. The porosity of the deposits creates a wet habitat ideal for these plants.

The Pyramid and Domes tufa rock structures, Pyramid Lake, Nevada



Modern tufa is formed from alkaline waters, supersaturated with calcite. On emergence, waters degas CO2 due to the lower atmospheric pCO2 (see partial pressure), resulting in an increase in pH. Since carbonate solubility decreases with increased pH,[6] precipitation is induced. Supersaturation may be enhanced by factors leading to a reduction in pCO2, for example increased air-water interactions at waterfalls may be important,[7] as may photosynthesis.[8]

Recently it has been demonstrated that microbially induced precipitation may be more important than physico-chemical precipitation. Pedley et al. (2009)[9] showed with flume experiments that precipitation does not occur unless a biofilm is present, despite supersaturation.

Calcite is the dominant mineral precipitate, followed by the polymorph aragonite.[citation needed]

Tufa dam in Chelekwot, Ethiopia



Tufa is common in many parts of the world including:

National Park Krka

Some sources suggest that "tufa" was used as the primary building material for most of the châteaux of the Loire Valley, France. This results from a mis-translation of the terms "tuffeau jaune" and "tuffeau blanc", which are porous varieties of the Late Cretaceous marine limestone known as chalk.[11][need quotation to verify][12][failed verification]

Dinaric karst watercourses




Tufa is occasionally shaped into a planter. Its porous consistency makes it ideal for alpine gardens. A concrete mixture called hypertufa is used for similar purposes.

Hollowed out portions of these tufa cliffs once formed back walls of rooms in a large prehistoric pueblo that stood here in Bandelier National Monument. Note outlines of masonry that were the outer portions of structure, and small holes in cliff that once supported ends of floor beams.

In the 4th century BC, tufa was used to build Roman walls up to 10m high and 3.5m thick.[13] The soft stone allows for easy sculpting. Tufa masonry was used in cemeteries, such as the one in Cerveteri.[14]

See also



  1. ^ Pentecost, A. (2005). Travertine. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers Group. ISBN 1-4020-3523-3.
  2. ^ Koban, C.G.; Schweigert, G. (1993). "Microbial origin of travertine fabrics - two examples from Southern Germany (Pleistocene Stuttgart travertines and Miocene riedöschingen Travertine)". Facies. 29: 251–263. doi:10.1007/BF02536931. S2CID 129353316.
  3. ^ a b Ford, T.D.; Pedley, H.M. (1996). "A review of tufa and travertine deposits of the world". Earth-Science Reviews. 41 (3–4): 117–175. Bibcode:1996ESRv...41..117F. doi:10.1016/S0012-8252(96)00030-X.
  4. ^ Pedley, H.M. (1990). "Classification and environmental models of cool freshwater tufas". Sedimentary Geology. 68 (1–2): 143–154. Bibcode:1990SedG...68..143P. doi:10.1016/0037-0738(90)90124-C.
  5. ^ Buchardt, B.; Israelson, C.; Seaman, P.; Stockmann, G. (2001). "Ikaite tufa towers in ikka fjord, southwest Greenland: their formation by mixing of seawater and alkaline spring water". Journal of Sedimentary Research. 71 (1): 176–189. Bibcode:2001JSedR..71..176B. doi:10.1306/042800710176.
  6. ^ Bialkowski, S.E. 2004. "Use of Acid Distributions in Solubility Problems". Archived from the original on 2009-02-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Zhang, D.; Zhang, Y; Zhu, A.; Cheng, X (2001). "Physical mechanisms of river waterfall tufa (travertine) formation". Journal of Sedimentary Research. 71 (1): 205–216. Bibcode:2001JSedR..71..205Z. doi:10.1306/061600710205.
  8. ^ Riding, R. (2000). "Microbial carbonates: the geological record of calcified bacterial-algal mats and biofilms". Sedimentology. 47: 179–214. doi:10.1046/j.1365-3091.2000.00003.x. S2CID 130272076.
  9. ^ Pedley, M.; Rogerson, M.; Middleton, R. (2009). "Freshwater calcite precipitates from in vitro mesocosm flume experiments: a case for biomediation of tufas". Sedimentology. 56 (2): 511–527. Bibcode:2009Sedim..56..511P. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3091.2008.00983.x. S2CID 129855485.
  10. ^ Ascione, Alessandra; Iannace, Alessandro; Imbriale, Pamela; Santangelo, Nicoletta; Santo, Antonio (February 2014). "Tufa and travertines of southern Italy: deep-seated, fault-related CO 2 as the key control in precipitation". Terra Nova. 26 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1111/ter.12059.
  11. ^ Forster, A.; Forster, S.C. (1996). "Troglodyte dwellings of the Loire Valley, France". Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology. 29 (3): 193–197. doi:10.1144/GSL.QJEGH.1996.029.P3.01. S2CID 128896993.
  12. ^ "Au Turonien". Une histoire de la Touraine à travers ses roches (in French). Retrieved 2010-10-01.
  13. ^ Devereaux, Bret (2021-11-12). "Collections: Fortification, Part II: Romans Playing Cards". A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry. Retrieved 2023-09-15.
  14. ^ Marini, Elena (January 2010). "A Study of the Architectonic Development of the Great Funerary Tumuli in the Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri". Etruscan Studies. 13 (1). doi:10.1515/etst.2010.13.1.3. ISSN 2163-8217.