Chemical and Physical Weathering in a Hot-arid, Tectonically Active Alluvial System (Anza-Borrego Desert, CA)

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Young Ji Joo, Megan Elwood Madden and Gerilyn S Soreghan, University of Oklahoma, School of Geology and Geophysics, Norman, OK, United States
Climate and tectonics are primary controls on bedrock erosion, and sediment production, transport, and deposition. Additionally, silicate weathering in tectonically active regions is known to play a significant role in global climate owing to the high rates of physical erosion and exposure of unweathered bedrock to chemical weathering, which removes CO2 from the atmosphere. Therefore, the feedback between weathering and climate is key to understanding climate change through Earth history. This study investigates chemical and physical weathering of alluvial sediments in the Anza-Borrego Desert, California, located in the southern part of the San Andreas Fault System. This setting provides an ideal opportunity to study weathering in a hot and arid climate with mean annual temperatures of ~23 °C and mean annual precipitation of ~160 mm in the basin. Samples were collected along a proximal-to-distal transect of an alluvial-fan system sourced exclusively from Cretaceous tonalite of the Peninsular Range. The single bedrock lithology enables exploration of the effects of other variables — climate, transport distance, drainage area, and tectonics— on the physical and chemical properties of the sediments. Although minimal overall (CIA = 56-61), the degree of chemical weathering increases down transect, dominated by plagioclase dissolution. BET surface area of the mud (<63µm) fraction decreases distally, which is consistent with coarsening grain-size. Chemical alteration and BET surface area both increase in a distal region, within the active Elsinore Fault zone. Extensive fracturing here, together with a more-humid Pleistocene climate likely facilitated in-situ bedrock weathering; specifically, dissolution of primary minerals (e.g. plagioclase), preceding the arid alluvial erosion, transport, and deposition in the Holocene. This study further seeks to disentangle the complex record of the climate and tectonic signals imprinted in these sediments.