Abstract

Weathering processes in a small watershed (Soldiers Delight) underlain by Serpentinite in the Piedmont of Maryland were studied by means of a mass balance technique and were compared with the processes operative in a watershed uncertain by schist. The two terranes are downwasting at a rate of 2.4 m per m.y., but chemical weathering much more strongly affects the Serpentinite (2.2 m per m.y.) than the schist (1.2 m per m.y.).

The serpentinite lacks a saprolite cover because resistate minerals are absent and alumina in the bedrock is scarce. In contrast, the schist contains both quartz and a source of alumina in the alumino-silicate minerals and, as a result, has a thick saprolite mantle. Relatively small amounts of secondary quartz, chalcedony, and 14Å clay minerals are synthesized in the serpentinite watershed, but relatively large amounts of gibbsite and clay minerals (kaolinite and vermiculite) are formed during the weathering of the schist. The hydrologic consequences in the serpentinite terrane compared with the schist watershed are increased flood-flow discharge, greater fluctuation in seasonal, instantaneous base-flow discharge, and pronounced seasonal fluctuations in total discharge. The serpentinite stream water averaged 205 ppm of total dissolved solids in the base flow compared to 25 ppm in the schist. Stream water from the serpentinite is of the magnesium bicarbonate type; that from the schist is sodium–calcium bicarbonate type.

On the serpentinite, substantial land-surface reduction (denudation) is effected by chemical weathering; mechanical weathering is secondary. On the schist terrane, mechanical weathering is the primary agent that lowers the land surface, even though chemical weathering has reduced the rock mass ay almost one-half.

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