Modeling stable isotope ratios in the weathering zone | INSTITUT DE PHYSIQUE DU GLOBE DE PARIS


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  Modeling stable isotope ratios in the weathering zone

Type de publication:

Journal Article


American Journal of Science, Volume 313, Ticket 4 (2013)



<p>When rock is converted to weathering products, the involved processes can be fingerprinted using the stable isotope ratios of metals (for example Li, Mg, Ca, Fe, Sr) and metalloids (B, Si). Here we construct a framework for interpreting these “novel” stable isotope ratios quantitatively in the compartments of the weathering zone in a geomorphic context. The approach is applicable to any novel stable isotope system and is based on a simple steady-state mass balance model that represents the weathering zone from the scale of a soil column to that of entire continents. Our model is based on the assumption that the two main processes associated with isotope fractionation are formation of secondary precipitates such as clays, and uptake of nutrients by plants. The model results show that the isotope composition of a given element in the weathering zone compartments depends on (1) the ratio between the release flux to water through primary mineral dissolution and the erosion flux of isotopically fractionated solid material, consisting of secondary precipitates and organic matter; (2) the isotope fractionation factors associated with secondary mineral precipitation and uptake by plants. A relationship is established between isotope ratios, isotope fractionation factors, and indexes for chemical weathering [such as chemical depletion fractions (CDF) and elemental mass transfer coefficients (tau)] derived from simple elemental concentration measurements. From this relationship, isotope fractionation factors can be calibrated from chemical and isotope data measured on field material. Furthermore, we show how the ratio of solid export to dissolved export of a given element from the weathering system can be estimated from the comparison of the isotope composition between bedrock, water, and sediment. This calculation can be applied to samples from soils, from rivers, and from the sedimentary record, and does not require knowing the isotope fractionation factors involved in the reactions. Finally, we apply the model to the oceanic Li isotope record reconstructed from marine carbonate sediments in order to discuss changes in global geomorphic regimes through the Cenozoic.</p>