Rock weathering and nutrient cycling along an erodosequence
von Blanckenburg, Friedhelm
Schuessler, Jan A.
Frings, Patrick J.
Frick, Daniel A.
MetadataShow full item record
How flowing water and organisms can shape Earth's surface, the Critical Zone, depends on how fast this layer is turned over by erosion. To quantify the dependence of rock weathering and the cycling of elements through ecosystems on erosion we have used existing and new metrics that quantify the partitioning and cycling of elements between rock, saprolite, soil, plants, and river dissolved and solid loads. We demonstrate their utility at three sites along a global transect of mountain landscapes that differ in erosion rates – an “erodosequence”. These sites are the Swiss Central Alps, a rapidly-eroding, post-glacial mountain belt; the Southern Sierra Nevada, USA, eroding at moderate rates; and the slowly-eroding tropical Highlands of Sri Lanka. The backbone of this analysis is an extensive data set of rock, saprolite, soil, water, and plant geochemical and isotopic data. This set of material properties is converted into process rates by using regolith production and weathering rates from cosmogenic nuclides and river loads, and estimates of biomass growth. Combined, these metrics allow us to derive elemental fluxes through regolith and vegetation. The main findings are: 1) the rates of weathering are set locally in regolith, and not by the rate at which entire landscapes erode; 2) the degree of weathering is mainly controlled by regolith residence time. This results in supply-limited weathering in Sri Lanka where weathering runs to completion in the regolith, and kinetically-limited weathering in the Alps and Sierra Nevada where soluble primary minerals persist; 3) these weathering characteristics are reflected in the sites' ecosystem processes, namely in that nutritive elements are intensely recycled in the supply-limited setting, and directly taken up from soil and rock in the kinetically settings; 4) the weathering rates are not controlled by biomass growth; 5) at all sites we find a deficit in river solute export when compared to solute production in regolith, the extent of which differs between elements. Plant uptake followed by litter export might explain this deficit for biologically utilized elements of high solubility, and rare, high-discharge flushing events for colloidal-bound elements of low solubility. Our data and new metrics have begun to serve for calibrating metal isotope systems in the weathering zone, the isotope ratios of which depend on the flux partitioning between the compartments of the Critical Zone. We demonstrate this application in several isotope geochemical companion papers.
von Blanckenburg, Friedhelm, Jan A. Schuessler, Julien Bouchez, Patrick J. Frings, David Uhlig, Marcus Oelze, Daniel A. Frick, Tilak Hewawasam, Jeannie Dixon, and Kevin Norton. "Rock weathering and nutrient cycling along an erodosequence." American Journal of Science 321, no. 8 (2021): 1111-1163.