Skip to main content Accessibility help

Development of Quaternary travertines in the carbonate mountains of the western Costa del Sol, Málaga, southern Spain

  • Antonio Guerra-Merchán (a1), Francisco Serrano (a1), José M. García-Aguilar (a1), José E. Ortiz (a2), Trinidad Torres (a2) and Yolanda Sánchez-Palencia (a2)...


The predominantly carbonate nature of the mountains near the coast of Málaga and Marbella (Costa del Sol, southern Spain) and the presence of springs have favored the formation of travertine buildups during the Quaternary. The geomorphic characteristics of the slopes and the location of the springs have determined the development of three types of travertine growths: (1) spring travertines, located preferentially on the south mountainside, where the slope is steepest; (2) pool-dam-cascade travertines, which form along the north and east edges, far from the carbonate relief and with a gentler slope; and (3) river-valley travertines, formed in the courses of the springs of any sector. Field observations combined with new amino acid racemization (AAR) dating of Helicidae gastropods show that most of the travertine formations are polyphasic and that their development was interrupted by stages of erosion and incision. Five stages of travertine development are evident, most of which are related to warm, moist episodes corresponding to marine oxygen isotope stages (MIS) 7, 5, 3, and 1, although local travertine growth also occurred during MIS 6 and during the transition from MIS 3 to 2.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author e-mail address:


Hide All
Andreo, B., 1997. Hidrogeología de acuíferos carbonatados en las Sierras Blanca y Mijas (Cordillera Bética, Sur de España). Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Málaga, Málaga.
Andreo, B., Sanz de Galdeano, C., 1994. Structure of the Sierra de Mijas (Alpujarride Complex, Betic Cordillera). Annales Tectonicae 8, 2335.
Bates, R.L., Jackson, J.A., 1987. Glossary of Geology. 3rd ed. American Geological Institute, Alexandria, VA.
Bragado, M.D., Araujo, R., Aparicio, M.T., 2009. Atlas y libro rojo de los moluscos de Castilla-La Mancha. Organismo Autónomo de Espacios Naturales de Castilla-La Mancha, Guadalajara.
Chen, D., Chen, H.W., 2013. Using the Köppen classification to quantify climate variation and change: An example for 1901–2010. Environmental Development 6, 6979.
Clark, I.A., Fontes, J.Ch., 1990. Paleoclimatic Reconstruction in Northern Oman Based on Carbonates from Hyperalkaline Groundwaters. Quaternary Research 33, 320336.
Clark, I.D., Khoury, H.N., Salameh, E., Fritz, P., Göksu, H.Y., Wiesser, A., Fontes, J.Ch., Causse, C., 1991. Travertines in Central Jordan: implications for palaeohydrology and dating. Proceedings of the International Atomic Energy Agency Symposium SM-319. The Use of Isotope Techniques in Water Resources Development. Vienna, Austria, March 11–15, 1991.
Delgado Castilla, L., 2009. Edades U/Th de los travertinos del cuaternario reciente de la Cuenca de Tabernas, Almería: implicaciones en su evolución geodinámica y paleoambiental. Cuaternario y Geomorfología 23, 6576.
Durán, J.J., 1996. Los sistemas kársticos de la provincia de Málaga y su evolución: contribución al conocimiento paleoclimático del Cuaternario en el Mediterráneo occidental. PhD dissertation, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.
Durán, J.J., Grün, R., Soria, J., 1988. Edad de las formaciones travertinas del flanco meridional de la Sierra de Mijas (provincia de Málaga, Cordilleras Béticas). Geogaceta 5, 6163.
Durán, J.J., Carrasco, F., Andreo, B., Marqués, I., Baldomero, A., Ferrer, I.E., Cortés, M., 2002. Aspectos cronoestratigráficos de los travertinos de Torremolinos (Málaga, Sur de España), a partir de nuevos datos del yacimiento arqueológico del Bajondillo. In: Carrasco, F., Durán, J.J., Andreo, B. (Eds.), Karst and Environment. Fundación Cueva de Nerja, Málaga, pp. 465470.
Eikenberg, J., Vezzu, G., Zumsteg, I., Bajo, S., Ruethi, M., Wyssling, G., 2001. Precise two chronometer dating of Pleistocene travertine: the 230Th/234U and 226Ra/226Ra (0) approach. Quaternary Science Reviews 20, 19351953.
Engin, B., Güven, O., 1997. Thermoluminescence dating of Denizli travertines from the southwestern part of Turkey. Applied Radiation and Isotopes 48, 12571264.
Ford, T.D., Pedley, H.M., 1992. Tufa deposits of the world. Journal of the Speleological Society of Japan 17, 4663.
Ford, T.D., Pedley, H.M., 1996. A review of tufa deposits of the world. Earth-Science Reviews 41, 117175.
Frank, N., Braum, F.N., Hambach, M., Mangini, A., Wagner, G., 2000. Warm period growth of travertine during the last interglaciation in southern Germany. Quaternary Research 54, 3848.
García del Cura, M.A., González, J.A., Ordóñez, S., Pedley, M., 1996. Las Lagunas de Ruidera. In: García, J.L., González, E. (Eds.), Elementos del Medio Natural en la provincia de Ciudad Real, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, pp. 84129.
García-García, F., Nieto, L.M., 2005. El sistema aluvio-travertínico de Frailes (Cuenca Neógeno-Cuaternaria de Alcalá la Real, provincia de Jaén, Cordillera Bética). Geogaceta 37, 7578.
González Martín, J.A., González Amuchastegui, M.J., 2014. Las Tobas en España. Sociedad Española de Geomorfología, Badajoz, España.
Goodfriend, G.A., 1991. Patterns of racemization and epimerization of amino acids in land snail shells over the course of the Holocene. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 55, 293302.
Goodfriend, G.A., Meyer, V., 1991. A comparative study of the kinetics of amino acid racemization/epimerization in fossil and modern mollusc shells. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 55, 33553367.
Grün, R., Schwarcz, H.P., Ford, D.C., Hentzsch, B., 1988. ESR dating of spring deposited travertine. Quaternary Science Reviews 7, 429432.
Guerra-Merchán, A., Serrano, F., Ramallo, D., 2000. El Plioceno de la Cuenca de Málaga (Cordillera Bética). Geotemas 1, 108110.
Guerra-Merchán, A., Serrano, F., Hlila, R., Kadiri, K., Sanz de Galdeano, C., Garcés, M., 2014. Tectono-sedimentary evolution of the peripheral basins of the Alboran Sea in the arc of Gibraltar during the latest Messinian-Pliocene. Journal of Geodynamics 77, 158170.
Guerra-Merchán, A., Serrano, F., García-Aguilar, J.M., Sanz de Galdeano, C., Ortiz, J.E., Torres, T., Sánchez-Palencia, Y., 2018. The Late Cenozoic landscape development in the westernmost Mediterranean (southern Spain). Geomorphology
Hearty, P.J., O'Leary, M.J., Kaufman, D.S., Page, M.C., Bright, J., 2004. Amino acid geochronology of individual foraminifer (Pulleniatina obliquiloculata) tests, north Queenland margin, Australia: a new approach to correlating and dating Quaternary tropical marine sediment cores. Paleoceanography 19, PA4022.
Hennig, G.J., Grünn, R., Brunnacker, K., 1983. Speleothems, travertines, and paleoclimates. Quaternary Research 20, 129.
Hillarie-Marcel, C., Carro, O., Casanova, J., 1986. 14C and Th/U dating of Pleistocene and Holocene stromatolites from East African paleolakes. Quaternary Research 25, 312329.
Hubbard, D.A., Herman, J.S., 1990. Overview of travertine-marl volumen. In: Herman, J.S. and Hubbard, D.A. (Eds.), Travertine-marl: stream deposits in Virginia. Virginia Division of Mineral Resources Publication 101:1–4.
Insua-Arévalo, J.M., 2008. Neotectónica y Tectónica Activa de la Cuenca de Málaga (Cordillera Bética Occidental). PhD dissertation, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain.
Insua-Arévalo, J.M., Martínez-Díaz, J.J., García-Mayordomo, J., Martín-García, F., Capote, R., 2007. Los abanicos aluviales del borde norte de la Sierra de Mijas (Cuenca de Málaga, Cordillera Bética occidental). XII Reunión Nacional de Cuaternario, Ávila, pp. 151152.
Insua-Arévalo, J.M., Martínez-Díaz, J.J., García-Mayordomo, J., Martín-González, F., 2012. Active tectonics in the Málaga Basin: evidences from morphotectonic markers (western Betic Cordillera, Spain). Journal of Iberian Geology 38, 175190.
Juliá, R., 1983. Travertines. In: Scholle, P.A., Bebout, D.G., Moore, C.H. (Eds.), Carbonate Depositional Environments. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Memoir 33, 6272.
Kaufman, D.S., 2000. Amino acid racemization in ostracodes. In: Goodfriend, G., Collins, M., Fogel, M., Macko, S., Wehmiller, J. (Eds.), Perspectives in Amino Acid and Protein Geochemistry. Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 145160.
Kaufman, D.S., 2003. Amino acid paleothermometry of Quaternary ostracodes from the Bonneville Basin, Utah. Quaternary Science Reviews 22, 899914.
Kaufman, D.S., 2006. Temperature sensitivity of aspartic and glutamic acid racemization in the foraminifera Pulleniatina. Quaternary Geochronology 1, 188207.
Kaufman, D.S., Manley, W.F., 1998. A new procedure for determining DL amino acid ratios in fossils using reverse phase liquid chromatography. Quaternary Geochronology 17, 9871000.
Koban, C.G., Schweigert, G., 1993. Microbial origin of travertine fabrics: two examples from southern Germany (Pleistocene Stuttgart travertine and Miocene Riodöschingen travertine). Facies 29, 251264.
Kosnik, M.A., Kaufman, D.S., 2008. Identifying outliers and assessing the accuracy of amino acid racemization measurements for geochronology: II. Data screening. Quaternary Geochronology 3, 328341.
Kronfeld, J., Vogel, J.C., Rosenthal, E., Weinstein-Evron, M., 1988. Age and paleoclimatic implications of Bet Shean travertines. Quaternary Research 30, 298303.
Laabs, B.J.C., Kaufman, D.S., 2003. Quaternary highstands in Bear Lake Valley, Utah and Idaho. Geological Society of America Bulletin 115, 463478.
Lisiecki, L.E., Raymo, M.E., 2005. A Pliocene-Pleistocene stack of 57 globally distributed benthic δ18O records. Paleoceanography 20, PA1003, 117.
Magnin, F., Guendon, J.L., Vaudour, J., Martin, Ph., 1991. Les travertins: accumulations carbonatées associées aux systémes karstiques, séquences sédimentaires et paléo-environnements quaternaires. Bulletin Société Géologique de France 162, 585594.
Martín-Algarra, A., Martín-Martín, M., Andreo, B., Julià, R., González-Gómez, C., 2003. Sedimentary patterns in perched spring travertines near Granada (Spain) as indicators of the paleohydrological and paleoclimatological evolution of a karst massif. Sedimentary Geology 161, 217228.
Martínez-Tudela, A., Cuenca, F., Santisteban, C., Grun, R., Hentzsch, B., 1986. Los travertinos del Rio Matarraña, Beceite (Teruel) como indicadores paleoclimáticos del Cuaternario. In: López-Vera, A. (Ed.), Quaternary Climate in Western Mediterranean, pp. 307324.
Mollat, H., 1968. Schichtenfolge un tektonisher Bau der Sierra Blanca und ihrer Umgebung (Betische Kordilleren, Südspanien). Geologisches Jahrbuch 86, 471521.
Murray-Wallace, C.V., 1995. Aminostratigraphy of Quaternary coastal sequences in southern Australia: an overview. Quaternary International 26, 6986.
Ordóñez, S., González, J.A., García del Cura, M.A., 1990. Datación radiogénica (U-234/U-238 y Th-230/U-234) de sistemas travertínicos del Alto Tajo (Guadalajara). Geogaceta 8, 5356.
Ortiz, J.E., Torres, T., Delgado, A., Reyes, E., Díaz-Bautista, A., 2009. A review of the Tagus river tufa deposits (central Spain): age and palaeoenvironmental record. Quaternary Science Reviews 28, 947963.
Ortiz, J.E., Torres, T., Pérez-González, A., 2013. Amino acid racemization in four species of ostracodes: taxonomic, environmental, and microstructural controls. Quaternary Geochronology 16, 129143.
Pedley, H.M., 1990. Classification and environmental models of cool freshwater tufas. Sedimentary Geology 68, 143154.
Penkman, K.E.H., Preece, R.C., Keen, D.H., Maddy, D., Schreve, D.S., Collins, M.J., 2007. Testing the aminostratigraphy of fluvial archives: the evidence from intra-crystalline proteins within freshwater shells. Quaternary Science Reviews 26, 29582969.
Penkman, K.E.H., Kaufman, D.S., Maddy, D., Collins, M.J., 2008. Closed-system behaviour of the intra-crystalline fraction of amino acids in mollusk shells. Quaternary Geochronology 3, 225.
Pentecost, A., 1993. British travertines: a review. Proceedings of the Geologists Association 104, 2339.
Pentecost, A., 1995. The Quaternary travertine deposits of Europe and Asia Minor. Quaternary Science Reviews 14, 10051028.
Pentecost, A., 2005. Travertine. Springer-Verlag, Berlin and Heidelberg, Germany.
Pentecost, A., Viles, H.A., 1994. A review and reassessment of travertine classification. Géographie Physique et Quaternaire 48, 305314.
Peña, J.L., Sancho, C., Lozano, M.V., 2000. Climatic and tectonic significance of Late Pleistocene and Holocene tufa deposits in the Mijares river canyon, eastern Iberian range, northeast Spain. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 25, 14031417.
Piles Mateo, E., Estévez González, C., Barba Martín, A., 1978. Hoja y memoria explicativa de la Hoja de Coín-1066 del Mapa Geológico de España a escala 1:50.000. Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, Madrid.
Reddmann, Th., Schüttlekopf, H., 1986. Thermoluminescence dating of Pleistocene travertine. Radiation Protection Dosimetry 17, 14.
Riding, R., 1991. Classification of microbial carbonates. In: Riding, R. (Ed.), Calcareous Algae and Stromatolites. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp. 2151.
Rivas-Martínez, S., Rivas-Sáenz, S., 2009. Worldwide Bioclimatic Classification System (accessed April 15, 2018).
Rodrigo Comino, J., Senciales González, J.M., 2012. Las plataformas travertínicas y tobáceas de la provincia de Málaga (España). Baetica. Estudios de Arte, Geografía e Historia 34, 83102.
Rodríguez-Vidal, J., Abad, M., Cáceres, L.M., González-Regalado, M.L., Lozano-Francisco, M.C., Ruiz, F., Vera-Peláez, J.L., Cortés Sánchez, M., de la Rubia de Gracia, J.J., Simón Vallejo, M.D., 2007. Rasgos morfosedimentarios del piedemonte nororiental de la Sierra de Mijas (Torremolinos, Málaga). In: Cortés Ramos, M. (Ed.), Cueva Bajoncillo (Torremolinos). Secuencia cronocultural y paleoambiental del Cuaternario reciente en la Bahía de Málaga. Servicio de Publicaciones del Centro de Ediciones de la Diputación de Málaga, Málaga, pp. 2535.
Rubel, F., Kottek, M., 2010. Observed and projected climate shifts 1901–2100 depicted by world maps of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification. Meteorologische Zeitschrift 19, 135141.
Sánchez-Goñi, M.F., Eynaud, F., Turon, J.L., Shackleton, N.J., 1999. High resolution palynological record off the Iberian margin: direct land-sea correlation for the last interglacial complex. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 171, 123137.
Sánchez-Goñi, M.F., Cacho, I., Turon, J.L., Guiot, J., Sierro, F.J., Peypouquet, J.P., Grimalt, J., Shackleton, N.J., 2002. Synchroneity between marine and terrestrial responses to millenial scale climatic variability during the last glacial period in the Mediterranean region. Climate Dynamics 19, 95105.
Sánchez-Goñi, M.F., Landais, A., Fletcher, W.J., Naughton, F., Desprat, S., Duprat, J., 2008. Contrasting impacts of Dansgaard-Oeschger events over a western European latitudinal transect modulated by orbital parameters. Quaternary Science Reviews 27, 11361151.
Sanz de Galdeano, C., 1997. La Zona Interna Bético-Rifeña: antecedentes, unidades tectónicas, correlaciones y bosquejo de reconstrucción paleogeográfica. Monográfica Tierras del Sur. Universidad de Granada, Granada.
Sanz de Galdeano, C., López Garrido, A.C., 1991. Tectonic evolution of the Málaga Basin (Betic Cordillera). Regional implications. Geodinamica Acta 5, 173186.
Soligo, M., Tuccimei, P., Barberi, R., Delitala, M.C., Miccadei, E., Taddeucci, A., 2002. U/Th dating of freshwater travertine from Middle Velino Valley (Central Italy): paleoclimatic and geological implications. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 184, 147161.
Srdoč, D., Horvatinčić, N., Obelić, B., Sliepčević, A., 1983. Radiocarbon dating of tufa in paleoclimatic studies. Radiocarbon 25, 421428.
Torres, T., Llamas, J., Canoira, L., García-Alonso, P., García-Cortés, A., Mansilla, H., 1995. Amino chronology of the lower Pleistocene deposits of Venta Micena, Orce, Granada. In: Grimalt, J. O., Dorronsoro, C. (Eds.), Organic Geochemistry: Developments and Applications to Energy, Climate, Environment and Human History. ALAGO, San Sebastián, pp. 722724.
Torres, T., Cobo, R., Canoira, L., García Cortés, A., Grün, R., Hoyos, M., Juliá, R., et al. , 1996. Aportaciones al conocimiento de la evolución paleoclimática y paleoambiental en la península Ibérica durante los dos últimos millones de años a partir del estudio de travertinos y espeleotemas. Empresa Nacional de Residuos Radioactivos, S.A., Publicación técnica 3/96. 118 pp.
Torres, T., Llamas, J., Canoira, L., García-Alonso, P., García-Cortés, A., Mansilla, H., 1997. Amino acid chronology of the lower Pleistocene deposits of Venta Micena (Orce, Granada, Andalusia, Spain). Organic Geochemistry 26, 8597.
Torres, T., Llamas, J., Canoira, L., García-Alonso, P., Ortiz, J.E., 1999. Estratigrafía Biomolecular. La racemización/epimerización de aminoácidos como herramienta geocronológica y paleotermométrica. ENRESA, Madrid.
Torres, T., Ortiz, J.E., García de la Morena, M.A., Llamas, F.J., Goodfriend, G., 2005. Aminostratigraphy and aminochronology of a tufa system in central Spain. Quaternary International 135, 2133.
Tubía, J.M., 1985. Estructura de los Alpujárrides occidentales: cinemática y condiciones de emplazamiento de las peridotitas de Ronda. PhD dissertation, Universidad del País Vasco, España.
Whitten, D.A., Brooks, J.V.R., 1972. The Penguin Dictionary of Geology. Penguin, London.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Guerra-Merchán et al. supplementary material
Guerra-Merchán et al. supplementary material 1

 Unknown (45 KB)
45 KB

Development of Quaternary travertines in the carbonate mountains of the western Costa del Sol, Málaga, southern Spain

  • Antonio Guerra-Merchán (a1), Francisco Serrano (a1), José M. García-Aguilar (a1), José E. Ortiz (a2), Trinidad Torres (a2) and Yolanda Sánchez-Palencia (a2)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed