Quantifying the Chemical Weathering Efficiency of Basaltic Catchments

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Daniel E Ibarra1, Jeremy K Caves1, Dana Thomas2, C Page Chamberlain1 and Katharine Maher2, (1)Stanford University, Environmental Earth System Science, Stanford, CA, United States, (2)Stanford University, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford, CA, United States
The geographic distribution and areal extent of rock type, along with the hydrologic cycle, influence the efficiency of global silicate weathering. Here we define weathering efficiency as the production of HCO3for a given land surface area. Modern basaltic catchments located on volcanic arcs and continental flood basalts are particularly efficient, as they account for <5% of sub-aerial bedrock but produce ~30% of the modern global weathering flux. Indeed, changes in this weathering efficiency are thought to play an important role in modulating Earth’s past climate via changes in the areal extent and paleo-latitude of basaltic catchments (e.g., Deccan and Ethiopian Traps, southeast Asia basaltic terranes).

We analyze paired river discharge and solute concentration data for basaltic catchments from both literature studies and the USGS NWIS database to mechanistically understand geographic and climatic influences on weathering efficiency. To quantify the chemical weathering efficiency of modern basalt catchments we use solute production equations and compare the results to global river datasets. The weathering efficiency, quantified via the Damköhler coefficient (Dw [m/yr]), is calculated from fitting concentration-discharge relationships for catchments with paired solute and discharge measurements. Most basalt catchments do not demonstrate ‘chemostatic’ behavior. The distribution of basalt catchment Dw values (0.194 ± 0.176 (1σ)), derived using SiO2(aq) concentrations, is significantly higher than global river Dw values (mean Dw of 0.036), indicating a greater chemical weathering efficiency. Despite high Dw values and total weathering fluxes per unit area, many basaltic catchments are producing near their predicted weathering flux limit. Thus, weathering fluxes from basaltic catchments are proportionally less responsive to increases in runoff than other lithologies. The results of other solute species (Mg2+ and Ca2+) are comparable, but are influenced both by the stoichiometry of local primary minerals and secondary clays. Our results provide a framework to interpret how small changes in the areal extent or geographic distribution of basaltic catchments may markedly influence the silicate weathering feedback.