Climate control on soil age and weathering thresholds in young, post-glacial soils of New Zealand

Monday, 15 December 2014: 2:10 PM
Jean L Dixon1,2, Oliver Chadwick2 and Peter Vitousek3, (1)Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, United States, (2)University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, United States, (3)Stanford University, Biological Sciences, Stanford, CA, United States
Climate is often invoked as a major driver of soil and landscape evolution. But a coherent story has failed to emerge for how climate controls soil properties and weathering rates – partially due to competing influences of mineral residence times and supply rates in eroding landscapes. Here, we combine insights and methods across the related fields of geomorphology, soil science and geochemistry, to explore weathering thresholds in non-eroding, young soils along a strong precipitation gradient (400-4000 mm/yr) in the South Island of New Zealand.

We studied ~30 soil profiles developed in thin (~1m) loess deposits that mantle LGM and post LGM moraines and outwash in the Waitaki catchment, extending from Lake Benmore to just below the Tasman glacier in the north. We find repeated thresholds (sharp, non-linear transitions) in soil chemistry, including exchangeable cations, pH and total elemental abundances. Abundance of pedogenic iron and aluminum increase with precipitation, stabilizing at ~2000 mm/yr. Plant-available phosphorous and exchangeable Ca and Mg are rapidly depleted as precipitation exceeds 1000 mm/yr. However total elemental abundances show up to 50% of major cations are retained at wetter sites, likely in less labile minerals. Preliminary numerical modeling of cation weathering kinetics provides some support for this interpretation. Together our data identify nonlinear changes in weathering intensity with rainfall, and show clear climate control on relatively young, post-glacial soil development.

Additionally, we measured profiles and inventories of meteoric 10Be to quantify soil residence times across the climate gradient. This nuclide is cosmogenically produced in the atmosphere and binds strongly to reactive surfaces in soil following fallout. Exchangeable beryllium does not decrease with rainfall, despite decreasing pH along the climate gradient. Therefore we are confident that nuclide concentrations do not reflect leaching. Instead, these measurements provide insight into the timescale of loess stabilization and soil development during major climate transitions in the region, including the glacial-interglacial transition and changing intensity of the westerlies.