Using Uranium-Series Isotopes to Quantify Volcanic Soil Formation Rates Under a Tropical Climate: Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Yvette Pereyra1, Lin Ma1, Peter B Sak2, Jerome Gaillardet3, Heather L Buss4 and Susan L Brantley5, (1)University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, United States, (2)Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, United States, (3)Institute de Physique d Globe Paris, Paris, France, (4)University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom, (5)Pennsylvania State University Main Campus, University Park, PA, United States
U-series isotopes fractionate during chemical weathering and their activity ratios have been used to determine timescales and rates of soil formation. Such soil formation rates are measured at soil profile scale and provide an important link to compare chemical weathering rates measured across different spatial scales.

We analyzed U-series isotope compositions in a ~12m deep soil profile in Basse-Terre Island of French Guadeloupe. The tropical Bras David watershed is developed on andesitic pyroclastic flows. Field observations have shown heterogeneity in color and texture in this profile. However, major element chemistry and mineralogy show some general depth trends.

First, Al, Fe, and Ti show a depletion profile relative to Th from 12m to 4m depth, an addition from 4m to 2m, and depletion from 2m to the surface. Second, mobile elements such as Ca, Mg, and Sr have undergone intensive weathering, therefore show almost complete depletion even in the deep profile, and an addition profile near the surface. This addition trend is most likely related to atmospheric dust and marine aerosol signatures. Finally, K, Mn, and Si show a partial depletion profile at depth. The main minerals present throughout the soil profile are halloysite and gibbsite.

238U/232Th ratios in this profile ranged from 0.374 to 1.696, while the 230Th/232Th ratios ranged from 0.367 to 1.701. A decrease of (238U/232Th) in the deep soil profile from 12m to 4m depth is observed, and an increase in the shallow profile from 4m to the surface. The (230Th /232Th) ratios showed a similar trend as (238U/232Th). Marine aerosols and atmospheric dust are responsible for the addition of U in shallow soils while intensive chemical weathering is responsible for the loss of U at depth.

U-series chemical weathering model suggests that the weathering duration from 12m to 4m depth is about 250kyr, with a weathering advancing rate of ~30 m/Ma. The rate is also about one order of magnitude lower than the weathering rate (~300 m/Ma) determined by river chemistry for the Brad David watershed. In this profile, the augered core didn’t reach the unweathered bedrock. Hence, the derived slow weathering rate most likely represents the intensive weathering of clay minerals, not the transformation of fresh bedrock to regolith, which occurs at much great depth beneath the thick regolith.