Abstract

In a headwater catchment in the Oregon Coast Range, we find that solid-phase mass losses due to chemical weathering are equivalent in the bedrock and the soil. However, the long-term rate of mass loss per unit volume of parent rock is greater in the soil than in the rock. We attribute this finding to the effects of biotic processes in the soil and to hydrologic conditions that maximize contact time and water flux through the mineral matrix in the soil. This result stems both from earlier work in which we demonstrated that rock and soil contribute equally to the solute flux and from arguments presented here that the basin is in dynamic equilibrium with respect to erosion and uplift. The silica flux of 10.7 ± 7.1 t·km−2·yr−1 from the basin is several times larger than the flux from older soils elsewhere, but comparable to the flux from sites with similar physical erosion rates. This result argues that physical denudation or uplift rates play an important role in setting the chemical denudation rate. Physical processes appear to influence chemical-weathering rates in several ways. First, they limit chemical evolution by removing material, thus setting the residence time within the weathered rock and the soil. Second, bioturbation mixes rock fragments into the more reactive soil and maintains high soil porosity, allowing free circulation of water. Because the weathering in the soil is more intense than in the rock, we argue that the chemical denudation rate will diminish where uplift rates—and, hence, physical-denudation rates—are great enough to lead to a bedrock-dominated landscape. Chemical denudation rates will increase with physical-denudation rates, but only as long as the landscape remains mantled by soil.

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