Lybrand, 2014


The Effects of Climate and Landscape Position on Mineral Weathering and Soil Carbon Storage in the Santa Catalina Critical Zone Observatory of Southern Arizona

Lybrand R.A. (2014)
Disertation in Soil, Water & Environmental Science. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, 223 pp  


The critical zone is the interface between abiotic and biotic constituents that spans from the vegetation canopy through the groundwater and represents an open system shaped by the climate, topography, and vegetation communities of a given environment. Four studies were completed to examine soil development, specifically mineral weathering and soil carbon storage, across semiarid sites spanning the Santa Catalina Mountain Critical Zone Observatory (SCM-CZO). The Santa Catalina Mountain Critical Zone Observatory is located along an environmental gradient in southern Arizona where co-varying climate and vegetation community properties have generated distinct changes in soil development across a relatively short distance (<20 miles). Soil, saprock, and parent rock were sampled on north-facing slopes from five climate-vegetation zones spanning desert scrub to mixed conifer forest. Within each climate-vegetation zone, samples were collected from two divergent summit and two convergent footslope landscape positions to account for topographic controls on mineral transformation. In the first study, the soil morphologic, physical, and chemical properties collected for all samples were combined with profile development indices to quantify soil variation with landscape position across the SCM-CZO. The results of this research demonstrated that climate and landscape position exert significant control on soil development in semiarid ecosystems, and that the profile development index is an effective tool for detecting these regional to hillslope scale variations in soil properties. The second study consisted of a cross-scale analysis of feldspar mineral transformation across the selected research sites to connect measures of pedon-scale soil development, depletions of feldspar and sodium in bulk soil, and elemental losses across feldspar grains at the microscale. Results indicated that greater soil development in the mixed conifer pedons corresponded to increased total feldspar and sodium losses. Desert scrub soils presented less evidence for feldspar transformation including lower profile development indices, gains in total feldspar percentages attributed to dust deposition, and less Na chemical depletion at the microscale. Greater soil development in convergent positions relative to adjacent divergent sites was consistent across all sites, with the highest degree of total feldspar depletion occurring in the conifer convergent locations. The third study focused on the physical distribution and mean residence time of soil organic carbon (SOC) in the SCM-CZO soils described for the first two studies. Surface (0-10 cm) and subsurface (30-40 cm) samples were collected from the aforementioned granitic regolith profiles. The soils were characterized using total C and N, δ¹³C, Δ¹⁴C, and radiocarbon derived mean residence time (MRT) estimates of bulk soil and physically separated C fractions to quantify SOC change with climate, vegetation, and landscape position. The results document a shift in SOC stabilization mechanisms across bioclimatically distinct ecosystems from mineral-associated SOC in the desert scrub soils to a mixture of mineral and occluded SOC in the conifer soils. Soils in the convergent landscapes concentrated the most SOC and typically exhibited the longest residence times across all locations. The fourth study examined the geochemical and mineralogical properties of the SCM-CZO soils across regional and hillslope scales of study to quantify soil development in semiarid environments. X-ray fluorescence and x-ray diffraction were used to characterize the elemental and mineralogical properties of the soils and parent material. Desert scrub dust samples were analyzed using x-ray fluorescence. The results indicate that mineral and base cation depletion were greatest in the convergent landscape positions at both sites and increased from the hot, moisture-limited desert scrub sites to the wetter, more productive conifer ecosystems. Enrichments in mica and select elements (i.e., Fe, Mg) suggested that dust deposition was a significant contributor to soil development across all sites. Geochemical estimates of dust fraction inputs confirmed this finding with dust composing up to 35% of the regolith material in the mixed conifer convergent soils. Clay mineral assemblage was dominated by halloysite and smectite minerals in the desert scrub site, reflecting complex climatic and mineral microtextural interactions in the dry, silica-rich desert environment. Clay minerals at the mixed conifer site exhibited the greatest degree of mineral transformation in the SCM, consisting of vermiculite, illite, kaolinite, and minor amounts of smectite and gibbsite. These findings confirm the interactive role of climate, vegetation, and landscape position in shaping the critical zone, where greater moisture availability and biological production are likely driving increased soil organic carbon storage and mineral weathering across various scales of study.


Lybrand R.A. (2014): The Effects of Climate and Landscape Position on Mineral Weathering and Soil Carbon Storage in the Santa Catalina Critical Zone Observatory of Southern Arizona. Disertation in Soil, Water & Environmental Science. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, 223 pp.

This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.