Tufa is a variety of
limestone Limestone is a common type of carbonate rock, carbonate sedimentary rock. It is composed mostly of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different Polymorphism (materials science), crystal forms of calcium carbonate (). Limestone form ...
formed when
carbonate minerals Carbonate minerals are those minerals containing the carbonate ion, CO32−. Carbonate divisions Anhydrous carbonates *Calcite group: trigonal **Calcite CaCO3 **Gaspeite (Ni,Mg,Fe2+)CO3 **Magnesite MgCO3 **Otavite CdCO3 **Rhodochrosite MnCO3 **S ...
precipitate out of ambient temperature water.
Geothermally heated hot springs
Geothermally heated hot springs
sometimes produce similar (but less porous) carbonate deposits, which are known as
. Tufa is sometimes referred to as (meteogene) travertine. It should not be confused with hot spring (thermogene) travertine. Tufa, which is calcareous, should not be confused with tuff, a porous
volcanic rock Volcanic rock (often shortened to volcanics in scientific contexts) is a Rock (geology), rock formed from lava erupted from a volcano. In other words, it differs from other igneous rock by being of Volcano, volcanic origin. Like all rock types, t ...

volcanic rock
with a similar
etymology Etymology () The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) – p. 633 "Etymology /ˌɛtɪˈmɒlədʒi/ the study of the class in words and the way their meanings have changed throughout time". is the study of the history History (from Greek ...
that is sometimes also called "tufa".

Classification and features

Modern and fossil tufa deposits abound with wetland plants; 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) provide a review of tufa systems worldwide.

Fluvial deposits

Deposits can be classified by their depositional environment (or otherwise by vegetation or petrographically). Pedley (1990) 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
) *Cascade – Deposits form at waterfalls, deposition is focused here due to accelerated flow (see
Geochemistry Geochemistry is the science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and Taxonomy (general), organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable explanatio ...
) *Barrage – Deposits form as a series of wikt:phytoherm, 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.).

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.

Other deposits

While fluvial and lacustrine systems make up the bulk of tufa systems worldwide, there are several other important tufa 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.


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 columns

Tufa columns are an unusual form of tufa typically associated with salt lake, saline lakes. They are distinct from most tufa deposits in that they lack any significant macrophyte component, due to the salinity excluding mesophile, mesophilic organisms. Some tufa columns may actually form from hot-springs, and may therefore constitute a form of . 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 in height.


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.


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, 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, as may photosynthesis. Recently it has been demonstrated that microbially induced precipitation may be more important than physico-chemical precipitation. Pedley et al. (2009) showed with flume experiments that precipitation does not occur unless a biofilm is present, despite supersaturation. Calcite is the dominant mineral precipitate found; however, the polymorph aragonite is also found.


Tufa is common in many parts of the world. Some notable deposits include: *Pyramid Lake (Nevada), Pyramid Lake, Nevada, US – tufa formations *Soda Lakes, Big Soda Lake, Nevada, US – tufa formations only a century old *Mono Lake, California, US – tufa columns *Trona Pinnacles, California, US – tufa columns *Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, United Kingdom *North Dock Tufa, United Kingdom *Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia *Basturs Lakes, Pallars Jussà, Catalonia - tufa mounds *Various parts of Armenia, such as Artik *The southwestern coastline of Western Australia *Near Groot Marico in the North West Province, South Africa *The Kadishi Tufa, Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa 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.


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

See also



External links

Mono Lake Committee: "Tufa"
Tufa, Limestone Sedimentary rocks