The formation of regolith is fundamental to the functioning and structure of the critical zone - the physically and chemically altered material formed from in situ parent bedrock that is available for transport. Understanding how regolith production and transport respond to perturbations in climate and/or tectonic forcing remains a first-order question. At the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (SSHO), high resolution LiDAR-derived topographic data and depths to hand auger refusal reveal a systematic asymmetry in hillslope gradient and mobile regolith thickness; both are greater on north-facing hillslopes. Hydrologic and geochemical studies at the SSHO also suggest asymmetric sediment transport, fluid flow, and mineral weathering with respect to hillslope aspect. Here, we combine shallow seismic surveys completed along 4 hillslope transects (2 north-facing and 2-south facing), 2 ridgetops transects, and subsurface observations in boreholes to investigate the role of climate in inducing fracturing and priming the development of the observed asymmetry. Comparisons of shallow p-wave velocities with borehole and pit observations lead us to hypothesize the presence of three distinct layers at SSHO: 1) a deep, high velocity layer that is consistent with unweathered shale bedrock; 2) an intermediate velocity layer that is consistent with fractured and chemically altered bedrock which overlies unaltered bedrock, and 3) a shallow, slow velocity layer that is consistent with mobile material or shallow soil. Shallow p-wave velocity profiles suggest differences in thickness for both the mobile and immobile regolith material with respect to aspect. Patterns of p-wave velocities with depth are consistent with patterns of fracture densities observed in boreholes and with predictive cracking intensity models related to frost action. The models and data are consistent with climate as a primary driver for the development of asymmetry in the subsurface architecture at SSHO.
West, Nicole, Eric Kirby, Andrew Nyblade and Susan Brantley (2015): Microclimate controls on weathering: Insights into deep critical zone evolution from seismic refraction surveys in the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory. EP41C-0941 Mechanistic Underpinnings of Damage, Disruption, and Downslope Transport of Rock and Regolith Posters, presented at 2015 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 14-18 Dec..
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.