To understand the relationship between geophysical measurements and chemical weathering at Earth’s surface, we combine comprehensive chemical and physical analyses of a 70-m granite weathering profile in the Southern Piedmont in the southeastern United States. The research site is in the uplands of the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory and is similar to many geomorphically stable, ancient, and highly-weathered Ultisol soils of the region. Surface and downhole geophysical analyses suggest significant physical changes to depths of about 40 m, where geophysical properties are consistent with competent and unweathered granite. At this depth, surface refraction velocities increase to >4.5 km/s; variations in downhole sonic velocities decrease by more than two-fold; and deviations in the downhole caliper log sharply decrease as well. Forty meters depth is also the depth of initiation of plagioclase feldspar weathering, as inferred from bulk geochemical measurement of the full 70-m deep core. Specifically, element-depth profiles, cast as mass transfer coefficient profiles using Ti and Zr as immobile elements, document inferred loss of plagioclase in the depth interval between 15 and 40-m depth. Plagioclase feldspar is the most abundant of the highly reactive minerals in the granite. Such a wide reaction front is characteristic of weathering granites. Some loss of K is observed at these depths but most K loss, as well as Mg loss, occurs at shallower depths. Nearby geophysical profiles and 3D stress models have been interpreted as showing that seismic velocities decrease at 40 m depth due to opening of fractures as rock is exhumed toward the surface. Given our interpretations of both the geochemical and geophysical data, we infer that the onset of chemical weathering of feldspar coincides with the opening of these fractures. The data highlight the ability of geochemistry and geophysics to complement each other and enrich our understanding of Earth’s Critical Zone.
Richter, D.; Bacon, A.; Brantley, S.; Holbrook, S. (2015): Geophysical and chemical weathering signatures across the deep weathered-unweathered granite boundary of the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, December 2015, San Francisco, CA.
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.