Long-term, High Resolution Records of Rock Cracking, Weather and Climate from Mid-Latitude, Desert and Humid-Temperate Sites

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Martha C Eppes and Brian Indrek Magi, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, United States
The mechanical breakdown of rock by physical weathering represents a significant rate limiting step for erosion, sediment supply, chemical weathering, and atmospheric- and landscape- evolution across the globe. Yet, the primary drivers of physical weathering are poorly quantified. Recent work highlights the importance of solar-induced thermal stress as a key driver in physical weathering, particularly in mid-latitudes, but to date the role of climate in thermal stress cracking has not been extensively explored. Here we examine two long-term acoustic emission (AE) records of rock cracking in both a humid-temperate (North Carolina - 1 year of data ) and a semi-arid (New Mexico – 3 years of data) location. We use AE energy as a proxy for rock cracking. We compare on-site average ambient daily temperature for days in which cracking occurs to the average temperatures for those dates derived from climate records from the nearest weather stations. The range of temperatures for days on which cracking occurs is similar for both stations (-10 C to +30 C). The majority of cracking in both locations occurs on warm days (> 15 C). In the semi-arid climate, 73% of cracking occurs on hot days (> 20 C) while only 0.1% occurs on very cold days (-8 C to -3 C). In the humid-temperate climate, 21% of cracking occurs on hot days, while 17% occurs on cold days. When days during which cracking occurs are compared to climate averages, 81% (NC) and 51% (NM) of all cracking occurs on days with absolute temperature anomalies >1, regardless of the temperature. The proportion of cracking that occurs on anomalously hot or cold days rises to 92% and 77% when the data is normalized to account for uneven sampling of the days with extreme temperatures. We examine these results in the context of prior analyses of this dataset which indicates that the majority of cracking, even that occurring in freezing temperatures, is caused by thermal-stress processes. Here we attribute a majority of observed higher cracking rates on anonymously hot or cold days to the increased potential on those days for thermal stress-related fracture. An important hypothesis that arises from our work is that physical weathering rates in the critical zone will increase with increased temperature extremes.