Using shallow seismic tomography to characterize patterns of near-surface weathering and the mobile-immobile regolith transition: Implications for the erodibility and morphology of hillslopes.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Brian A Clarke, Earth Research Institute, Santa Barbara, CA, United States, Eric Kirby, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States, Douglas W Burbank, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, United States and Nicole West, Penn State Geosciences, University Park, PA, United States
We use 2D tomography of P- and S-wave velocities (Vp, Vs), based on seismic refraction and surface wave analyses, to characterize subsurface architecture and erodibility of hillslopes. Calibrating the seismic imagery with direct field observations allows us to quantify mechanical properties, image depth-dependent variations in weathering intensity, and identify the mobile-immobile regolith transition and differences in transport efficiency of mobile layers.

We conducted a cross-CZO comparison of N- and S-facing slopes at Boulder Creek and Shale Hills CZOs (BcCZO and SSHCZO) to investigate how near-surface weathering and hillslope morphology are influenced by differences in regional geology and climatic as well as local variations in aspect-controlled microclimate. Niwot Ridge (BcCZO) is a high alpine site with minimal soil/veg cover, characterized by steeper S-facing hillslopes; whereas, SSHCZO is a temperate, densely-forested, soil-mantled site with steeper N-facing slopes.

On Niwot Ridge, the depth of the weathering front and thickness of mobile regolith are substantially greater on shallower N-facing slopes; however, velocity-based estimates of transport efficiency are higher on S-facing slopes. Although, thin mobile regolith on S-facing slopes may be weaker (slower V), the lower gradient of N-facing slopes and southward asymmetry of the ridge divide, suggests greater transport efficiency on N-facing aspects. This can be explained by the dominance of frost/freeze process on N-facing slopes, which can efficiently develop and transport the thick mobile regolith.

At SSHCZO, depths of weathering fronts are invariant with slope aspect, suggesting that aspect control is not a predominant mechanism driving regolith production. Mobile regolith thickness, however, is more than 2-fold greater on N-facing slopes. Additionally, mobile regolith on both slope aspects is primarily composed of well-developed soils. N-facing soils are thicker with greater cohesion, moisture, and inclusion of rock fragments. This is consistent with velocity-based estimates of lower transport efficiency on N-facing slopes relative to the thin, dry, fine grained soils on S-facing slopes.