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Strontium 87/strontium 86 as a tracer of mineral weathering reactions and calcium sources in an alpine/subalpine watershed, Loch Vale, Colorado

January 1, 1997

Sr isotopic ratios of atmospheric deposition, surface and subsurface water, and geologic materials were measured in an alpine/subalpine watershed to characterize weathering reactions and identify sources of dissolved Ca in stream water. Previous studies have noted an excess of Ca in stream water above that expected from stoichiometric weathering of the dominant bedrock minerals. Mixing calculations based on 87Sr/86Sr indicate that on an annual basis, 26 ± 7% of Ca export in streams is atmospherically derived, 23 ± 1% is from weathering of plagioclase, and the remainder is from weathering of calcite present in trace amounts in the bedrock. A potential source of error when applying Sr isotopes in catchment studies is determination of the 87Sr/86Sr of Sr released by mineral weathering, which is complicated by the wide range of mineral isotopic compositions, particularly in older rocks, and the variable rates at which the minerals weather. In this study, base-flow stream chemistry was used to represent the 87Sr/86Sr of Sr derived from mineral weathering because it effectively integrates the potentially variable isotopic composition of Sr released by weathering in the alpine environment.