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Effects of temperature on silicate weathering: Solute fluxes and chemical weathering in a temperate rain forest watershed, Jamieson Creek, British Columbia

September 22, 2009

Chemical weathering of silicate minerals has long been known as a sink for atmospheric CO2, and feedbacks between weathering and climate are believed to affect global climate. While warmer temperatures are believed to increase rates of weathering, weathering in cool climates can be accelerated by increased mineral exposure due to mechanical weathering by ice. In this study, chemical weathering of silicate minerals is investigated in a small temperate watershed. The Jamieson Creek watershed is covered by mature coniferous forest and receives high annual precipitation (4000 mm), mostly in the form of rainfall, and is underlain by quartz diorite bedrock and glacial till. Analysis of pore water concentration gradients indicates that weathering in hydraulically unsaturated ablation till is dominated by dissolution of plagioclase and hornblende. However, a watershed scale solute mass balance indicates high relative fluxes of K and Ca, indicating preferential leaching of these solutes possibly from the relatively unweathered lodgement till. Weathering rates for plagioclase and hornblende calculated from a watershed scale solute mass balance are similar in magnitude to rates determined using pore water concentration gradients.

When compared to the Rio Icacos basin in Puerto Rico, a pristine tropical watershed with similar annual precipitation and bedrock, but with dissimilar regolith properties, fluxes of weathering products in stream discharge from the warmer site are 1.8 to 16.2-fold higher, respectively, and regolith profile-averaged plagioclase weathering rates are 3.8 to 9.0-fold higher. This suggests that the Arrhenius effect, which predicts a 3.5- to 9-fold increase in the dissolution rate of plagioclase as temperature is increased from 3.4° to 22 °C, may explain the greater weathering fluxes and rates at the Rio Icacos site. However, more modest differences in K and Ca fluxes between the two sites are attributed to accelerated leaching of those solutes from glacial till at Jamieson Creek. Our findings suggest that under conditions of high rainfall and favorable topography, weathering rates of silicate minerals in warm tropical systems will tend to be higher than in cool temperate systems, even if the temperate system is has been perturbed by an episode of glaciation that deposits regolith high in fresh mineral surface area.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2010
Title Effects of temperature on silicate weathering: Solute fluxes and chemical weathering in a temperate rain forest watershed, Jamieson Creek, British Columbia
DOI 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2009.09.005
Authors Benjamin F. Turner, Arthur F. White, Susan L. Brantley
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Chemical Geology
Series Number
Index ID 70230291
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Western Branch