Porosity and permeability along fractured zones in carbonates could be significantly enhanced by ascending fluid flow, resulting in hypogene karst development. This work presents a detailed structural analysis of the longest cave system in South America to investigate the relationship between patterns of karst conduits and regional deformation. Our study area encompasses the Toca da Boa Vista (TBV) and Toca da Barriguda (TBR) caves, which are ca. 107 km and 34 km long, respectively. This cave system occurs in Neoproterozoic carbonates of the Salitre Formation in the northern part of the São Francisco Craton, Brazil. The fold belts that are around and at the craton edges were deformed in a compressive setting during the Brasiliano orogeny between 750 and 540 Ma. Based on the integrated analysis of the folds and brittle deformation in the caves and in outcrops of the surrounding region, we show the following: (1) The caves occur in a tectonic transpressive corridor along a regional thrust belt; (2) major cave passages, at the middle storey of the system, considering both length and frequency, developed laterally along mainly (a) NE-SW to E-W and (b) N to S oriented anticline hinges; (3) conduits were formed by dissolutional enlargement of subvertical joints, which present a high concentration along anticline hinges due to folding of competent grainstone layers; (4) the first folding event F1 was previously documented in the region and corresponds with NW-SE- to N-S-trending compression, whereas the second event F2, documented for the first time in the present study, is related to E-W compression; and (5) both folding events occurred during the Brasiliano orogeny. We conclude that fluid flow and related dissolution pathways have a close relationship with regional deformation events, thus enhancing our ability to predict karst patterns in layered carbonates.
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