Ma et al., 2012

Talk/Poster

How lithology and climate affect REE mobility and fractionation along a shale weathering transect of the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory

Ma, L., Jin, L., Dere., A.L., White, T., Mathur, R., Brantely, S.L. (2012)
AGU Annual Fall Conference Proceedings  
  • Lin Ma

    Shale Hills, INVESTIGATOR, COLLABORATOR

  • Lixin Jin

    Shale Hills, INVESTIGATOR, COLLABORATOR

  • Ashlee Dere

    Shale Hills, INVESTIGATOR, COLLABORATOR

  • Tim White

    National, Shale Hills, INVESTIGATOR, STAFF

  • Ryan Mathur

    Shale Hills, INVESTIGATOR, COLLABORATOR

  • Susan Brantley

    National, Eel, Luquillo, Shale Hills, INVESTIGATOR, COLLABORATOR

Abstract

Shale weathering is an important process in global elemental cycles. Accompanied by the transformation of bedrock into regolith, many elements including rare earth elements (REE) are mobilized primarily by chemical weathering in the Critical Zone. Then, REE are subsequently transported from the vadose zone to streams, with eventual deposition in the oceans. REE have been identified as crucial and strategic natural resources; and discovery of new REE deposits will be facilitated by understanding global REE cycles. At present, the mechanisms and environmental factors controlling release, transport, and deposition of REE - the sources and sinks - at Earth’s surface remain unclear.

Here, we present a systematic study of soils, stream sediments, stream waters, soil water and bedrock in six small watersheds that are developed on shale bedrock in the eastern USA to constrain the mobility and fractionation of REE during early stages of chemical weathering. The selected watersheds are part of the shale transect established by the Susquehanna Shale Hills Observatory (SSHO) and are well suited to investigate weathering on shales of different compositions or within different climate regimes but on the same shale unit.

Our REE study from SSHO, a small gray shale watershed in central Pennsylvania, shows that up to 65% of the REE (relative to parent bedrock) is depleted in the acidic and organic-rich soils due to chemical leaching. Both weathering soil profiles and natural waters show a preferential removal of middle REE (MREE: Sm to Dy) relative to light REE (La to Nd) and heavy REE (Ho to Lu) during shale weathering, due to preferential release of MREE from a phosphate phase (rhabdophane). Strong positive Ce anomalies observed in the regolith and stream sediments point to the fractionation and preferential precipitation of Ce as compared to other REE, in the generally oxidizing conditions of the surface environments.

One watershed developed on the Marcellus black shale in Pennsylvania allows comparison of behaviors of REE in the organic-rich vs. organic-poor end members under the same climate conditions. Our study shows that black shale  bedrock has much higher REE contents compared to the Rose Hill gray shale. The presence of reactive phases such as organic matter, carbonates and sulfides in black shale and their alteration greatly enhance the release of REE and other metals to surface environments. This observation suggests that weathering of black shale is thus of particular importance in the global REE cycles, in addition to other heavy metals that impact the health of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Finally, our ongoing investigation of four more gray shale watersheds in Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Puerto Rico will allow for a comparison of shale weathering along a climosequence. Such a systematic study will evaluate the control of air temperature and precipitation on REE release from gray shale weathering in eastern USA.

Citation

Ma, L., Jin, L., Dere., A.L., White, T., Mathur, R., Brantely, S.L. (2012): How lithology and climate affect REE mobility and fractionation along a shale weathering transect of the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory. AGU Annual Fall Conference Proceedings.

This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.