Landslides as weathering reactors; links between physical erosion and weathering in rapidly eroding mountain belts

Monday, 15 December 2014: 1:55 PM
Robert Emberson1, Niels Hovius1 and Albert Galy2, (1)GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany, (2)CRPG Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques, Vandoeuvre-Les-Nancy, France
The link between physical erosion and chemical weathering is generally modelled with a surface-blanketing weathering zone, where the supply of fresh minerals is tied to the average rate of denudation. In very fast eroding environments, however, sediment production is dominated by landsliding, which acts in a stochastic fashion across the landscape, contrasting strongly with more uniform denudation models. If physical erosion is a driver of weathering at the highest erosion rates, then an alternative weathering model is required.

Here we show that landslides can be effective ‘weathering reactors’. Previous work modelling the effect of landslides on chemical weathering (Gabet 2007) considered the fresh bedrock surfaces exposed in landslide scars. However, fracturing during the landslide motion generates fresh surfaces, the total surface area of which exceeds that of the exposed scar by many orders of magnitude. Moreover, landslides introduce concavity into hillslopes, which acts to catch precipitation. This is funnelled into a deposit of highly fragmented rock mass with large reactive surface area and limited hydraulic conductivity (Lo et al. 2007). This allows percolating water reaction time for chemical weathering; any admixture of macerated organic debris could yield organic acid to further accelerate weathering.

In the South island of New Zealand, seepage from recent landslide deposits has systematically high solute concentrations, far outstripping concentration in runoff from locations where soils are present. River total dissolved load in the western Southern Alps is highly correlated with the rate of recent (<35yrs) landsliding, suggesting that landslides are the dominant locus of weathering in this rapidly eroding landscape. A tight link between landsliding and weathering implies that localized weathering migrates through the landscape with physical erosion; this contrasts with persistent and ubiquitous weathering associated with soil production. Solute fluxes from fast eroding landscapes therefore likely depend on climatic or tectonic forcing of mass wasting; greater precipitation would drive increased weathering, while earthquakes, in generating landslides (Dadson et al. 2003; Chen & Hawkins 2009), may be important in setting long term solute fluxes.