Report Number: 106
Year: 2004

Karst Geology of Aguijan and Tinian,CNMI Cave Inventory and Structural Analysis of Development

Tinian and Aguijan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), are volcanic, back arc islands in the western Pacific formed by Pacific Plate subduction under the Philippine Plate. The islands are composed of Eocene volcanic cores mantled by Plio-Pleistocene carbonate facies and raised Holocene beach and reef deposits. The entire sequence has been tectonically uplifted and contains high-angle normal faults, while isostatic subsidence and scarp failures overprint tectonic brittle failure features.

A cave and karst inventory on Tinian and Aguijan surveyed 114 features and is believed to adequately represent the megaporosity (cave) development. Two distinct cave classes were identified: mixing zone caves (flank margin caves and banana holes) and fissure caves. Most mixing zone caves were located in or near scarps and coastlines, often at similar elevations to nearby caves. Fissure caves were located in regions of brittle failure, forming linear features with narrow widths. Three previous sea-level positions were identified based on horizons of mixing zone caves. Seventeen freshwater discharge sites and four allogenic recharge sites were identified on Tinian.

Kolmogorov-Smirnov statistical analyses and rose diagram comparisons of orientation trends found significant similarities between megaporosity and geologic structure (brittle failure) on Tinian. Analyses of small regions showed distinct relations between brittle deformation and megaporosity, while at larger scales similarities became less obvious due to the complex geologic history and physiography of the island. Based on similarities in populations of orientation trends, fissure cave development is primarily controlled by brittle failure deformation with development along faults, fractures, and joints, while mixing zone cave development is primarily controlled by fresh-water lens position but significantly influenced by brittle failure deformation.

Tinian and Aguijan do not fit neatly into one classification of the Carbonate Island Karst Model. Regions of Tinian best fit the Simple, Carbonate-Cover and Composite Island Karst Models, but none easily fit the entire island. Aguijan must be classified as a Simple Carbonate Island because no geologic data has proved the presence of non-carbonate rocks interfering with the fresh-water lens, however it is probable that Aguijan does contain basement rocks that extend above sea-level as on other carbonate islands in the Marianas.

Kevin W. Stafford
John E. Mylroie
John W. Jenson