US Geological Survey Water, Energy, and Biogeochemical Budgets (WEBB) Watershed Program

Clow, D.W., and Drever, J.I., 1996, Weathering rates as a function of flow through an alpine soil: Chemical Geology, v. 132, p. 131-141.

The effect of flow on release rates of solutes from soil in a 39-m2 alpine catchment in the Colorado Rockies was measured during the summers of 1990-1994. Flow rates through the soil were varied by augmenting natural rainfall with deionized irrigation water. Daily water inputs averaged between 96 and 216 l/day during the five field seasons, and mean discharge (inputs minus evapotranspiration) varied from 35 to 175 l/day. Volume-weighted mean concentrations of base cations and silica decreased only moderately in response to the increased water inputs. Input fluxes of solutes in precipitation were similar in each of the study seasons, but output fluxes of base cations and silica in surface outflow increased substantially in conjunction with the average water input rate for the season. Weathering rates calculated from the chemical fluxes increased substantially in response to increases in water input rates. The increases appear to be largely attributable to enhanced transport of solutes from the soil matrix under high flow conditions. At high flow, physical flushing of micropores presumably occurs to a greater extent than during low-flow periods because of greater soil wetness and higher hydrologic head. Increased flushing would also cause an increased rate of diffusion of solutes from microcracks in mineral surfaces and constricted pore spaces in response to an increased concentration gradient between those regions and adjacent areas in the soil matrix. Another consequence of the increased flushing that occurs during periods of high flow is that concentrations throughout the soil matrix tend to be lower, which might increase chemical weathering rates of some silicate minerals such as microcline, which are relatively close to saturation. Decreased Si concentrations under high-flow conditions appear to promote dissolution of amorphous aluminosilicates or desorption of Si from mineral surfaces, buffering Si concentrations in the soil solutions. Thus, both physical transport of solutes and subsequent chemical effects appear to be responsible for the positive relation observed between fluxes of weathering products and water input rates.

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