Tufa columns at Mono Lake, California

Tufa is a variety of limestone, formed by the precipitation of carbonate minerals from ambient temperature water bodies. Geothermally heated hot-springs sometimes produce similar (but less porous) carbonate deposits known as travertine. Tufa is sometimes referred to as (meteogene) travertine;[1] care must be taken when searching through literature to prevent confusion with hot spring (thermogene) travertine. Calcareous tufa should not be confused with tuff, a porous volcanic rock with parallel etymological origins.


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 settings. 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 focussed 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.).

Lacustrine deposits

Tufa deposits and columns and their flora on the lakeside of Mono Lake.

Lacustrine tufas are generally formed at the periphery of lakes and build up phytoherms (freshwater reefs) and 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, 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 saline lakes. They are distinct from most tufa deposits in that they lack any significant macrophyte component; this is due to the salinity excluding mesophilic organisms.[3] Some tufa columns may actually form from hot-springs and therefore actually be 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.[5]


Tufa deposits form an important habitat for a diverse flora. Bryophytes (non-vascular land plants) and diatoms are well represented. The porosity of the deposits creates a wet habitat ideal for these plants.


Modern tufa is formed from supersaturated alkaline waters, with raised pCO2. 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 found; however, the polymorph aragonite is also found.


Yerevan, the capital of Armenia is known as the Pink City, for abundance of pink tufa used in the city's architecture

Tufa is common in many parts of the world. Some notable deposits include:-

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.[10][11]


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.

Reference list

  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. 
  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. doi:10.1016/S0012-8252(96)00030-X. 
  4. ^ Pedley, H.M. (1990). "Classification and environmental models of cool freshwater tufas". Sedimentary Geology 68: 143–154. 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. doi:10.1306/042800710176. 
  6. ^ Bialkowski, S.E. 2004. "Use of Acid Distributions in Solubility Problems". http://www.chem.usu.edu/~sbialkow/Classes/3600/alpha/alpha3.html. 
  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. 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. 
  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. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3091.2008.00983.x. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Au Turonien" (in French). Une Histoire De Le Touraine À Traverse Ses Roches. http://dominique.millet2.free.fr/histouraine5.html. Retrieved 2010-10-01. 

See also

External links

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  • tufă — TÚFĂ, tufe, s.f. 1. Arbust cu ramuri dese care pornesc direct de la rădăcină; grup de flori, de lăstari sau de plante erbacee cu rădăcină comună. ♢ expr. (fam.) Tufă (de Veneţia) = nimic, deloc. Tufă n pungă sau tufă n buzunar = a) nimic; b) om… …   Dicționar Român

  • tufa — (n.) a porous rock, 1770, from It. tufa tufa, porous rock, probably from L. tufus, tophus loose, porous volcanic rock, said to be an Oscan Umbrian loan word …   Etymology dictionary

  • tufa — [to͞o′fə, tyo͞o′fə] n. [It tufo, tufa, kind of porous stone < L tofus, tuff, tufa] any of various sedimentary rocks, as travertine, made up of deposits of calcium carbonate formed by evaporation or precipitation in or near a cave, spring, lake …   English World dictionary

  • Tufa — Tu fa, [It. fufo soft, sandy stone, L. tofus, tophus. Cf. {Tofus}, {Toph}, and {Tophin}.] (Min.) (a) A soft or porous stone formed by depositions from water, usually calcareous; called also {calcareous tufa}. (b) A friable volcanic rock or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • TUFA — apud Bedam, Hist. Angl. l. 2. c. 16. Nec non et incedente illô (Edwino Rege) ubilibet per plateas, illud penus vexilli, quod Romani rufam, Angli appellant Tuuf, ante eumferrisolebat: vexilli genus est, ex consertis plumarum globis, Carolo du… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Tufa — (Min.), so v.w. Tuff …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • tufa — ► NOUN 1) a porous rock composed of calcium carbonate and formed by precipitation from water, e.g. around mineral springs. 2) another term for TUFF(Cf. ↑tuff). ORIGIN Italian …   English terms dictionary

  • Tufa — Tuchfabrik in Trier Die Tuchfabrik (kurz TUFA) in Trier ist regionales Kulturzentrum und Kleinkunstbühne in der ehemaligen Tuchfabrik Weber. Die TUFA findet bundesweit Beachtung als Zentrum freier Kulturarbeit und ist ein wichtiger Bestandteil… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • tufa — tufaceous /tooh fay sheuhs, tyooh /, adj. /tooh feuh, tyooh /, n. Geol. 1. Also called calcareous tufa, calc tufa, calc tuff. a porous limestone formed from calcium carbonate deposited by springs or the like. Cf. travertine. 2. (not in technical… …   Universalium

  • tufa — n. Tuff, volcanic tufa …   New dictionary of synonyms

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