Erosion is intimately linked to chemical weathering, however we lack quantitative constraints on how erosion processes impact mineral weathering rates. Here we use the uranium-series isotope composition of river-borne material in small catchments of Puerto Rico and southeastern Australia to study the effect of contrasting erosion regimes on weathering.
The U-series isotope composition of stream sediments was modelled to infer a weathering age, i.e. the average time elapsed since the sediment’s minerals have started weathering. In southeastern Australia, the weathering age of stream sediments ranges between 346 ± 12 kyr and 1.78 ± 0.16 Myr, similar to values inferred from weathering profiles in the same catchment. Old weathering ages likely reflect the shallow origin of sediments mobilised via near-surface soil transport, the main mechanism of erosion in this catchment. Contrastingly, in Puerto Rico weathering ages are much younger, ranging from 5.1 ± 0.1 to 19.4 ± 0.4 kyr, reflecting that sediments are derived from less weathered, deeper saprolite, mobilised by landslides.
Weathering ages of stream sediments are used to infer catchment-wide, mineral-specific weathering rates that are one to two orders of magnitude faster for Puerto Rico than for southeastern Australia. Thus, the type of erosion (near-surface soil transport vs. landslide) also affects the weathering rate of river sediments, because their weathering ages determine the potential for further weathering during sediment transport and storage in alluvial plains.