The spatial distribution of weathered rock across actively eroding landscapes strongly influences how water and solutes are routed throughout the landscape. To understand the controls on the evolution of weathering profiles that underlie hilly and mountainous regions, we investigated the porosity formation and chemical weathering of shale (Coastal Belt of the Franciscan Formation) samples from four boreholes at Eel River Critical Zone Observatory (ERCZO) in Northern California. We further compared the characteristics of the shale at ERCZO to the well studied Rose Hill shale at Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (SSHCZO) in central Pennsylvania. These two sites have similar mineralogical composition, but are located in vastly different climate and tectonic settings. In particular, the erosion rate at ERCZO (0.2-0.4 mm/yr) is much faster than at SSHCZO (0.015 mm/yr), and the average annual precipitation at ERCZO is higher (1.7 m/yr vs. 1 m/yr at SSHCZO). However, neutron scattering experiments show nearly identical bedrock porosities (3.1-4.6%) of parent rock.
Analysis of the chemical and mineralogical compositions of samples throughout the weathering profile reveal that, at both sites, chemical weathering reactions occur at similar depths despite large differences in erosion rate: 1) carbonate and pyrite deplete sharply near the water table. 2) Chlorite oxidation also initiates near water table but shows a wider reaction front. 3) Illite dissolution occurs near the land surface. In both settings, the interface between weathered and unweathered rock roughly coincides with the water table and the porosity and water-accessibility increase toward the land surface. However, at ERCZO, the porosity and the density of micro-fractures are higher in the weathered zone than observed at SSHCZO. It is possible that both sites are moving toward a balance between rates of erosion and weathering advance, and that higher density of microfractures at the rapidly eroding ERCZO promotes faster water infiltration and faster weathering advance relative to the more slowly eroding SSHCZO. Further investigation of the origin and role of these microfractures is needed to understand the interplay between climate, erosion, and weathering that controls hillslope weathering profiles.
Gu, X., Rempe, D., and Brantley, S.L. (2016): Investigating the mechanisms of shale porosity development to understand hydrologic controls on hillslope scale weathering in a comparison across CZOs. 2016 Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, CA, 12-16 Dec..
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.