Insights into combined radiogenic and stable strontium isotopes as tracers for weathering processes in subglacial environments

E.I. Stevenson, S.M. Aciego, P. Chutcharavan, I.J. Parkinson, K.W. Burton, M.A. Blakowski, C.A. Arendt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract This study reports stable and radiogenic strontium isotope behaviour in the dissolved load and suspended sediments from the subglacial outflow of the Lemon Creek glacier (Juneau Ice Field, Alaska) over a single melt season. In situ measurements (discharge, total alkalinity, pH and conductivity) are combined with elemental concentrations, X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis and radiogenic strontium isotope measurements to interpret the variations observed in stable strontium isotopic ratios. The stable Sr isotope composition (88Sr/86Sr ratio expressed as δ88/86Sr, ‰) of the dissolved load averages 0.31 ± 0.05‰, and is heavier than both the suspended sediment 0.18 ± 0.03‰, as well as local bedrocks ~ 0.20 to 0.26‰. We attribute the enrichment of heavier isotopes in the dissolved load to the uptake of lighter Sr isotopes by secondary weathering minerals, driving the dissolved load to heavier values. X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis confirms the presence of clays in the suspended sediments and thermodynamic modelling suggests the presence of iron oxy-hydroxide phases. Although it is not possible to completely rule out the effect of dissolution of primary minerals in controlling Sr isotopic compositions of the dissolved load, our data indicate that the extent of secondary mineral formation likely plays a significant role. The preferential weathering of minerals such as biotite (consistent with the mineralogical assemblages found in the suspended sediments), as well as the potential presence of radiogenic calcites from metacarbonates (derived from the Yukon-Tanana terrain), may be driving the small seasonal shifts in 87Sr/86Sr of the dissolved load to more radiogenic compositions, from 87Sr/86Sr(DL) = 0.71048 to 0.710647. Using the combination of stable and radiogenic strontium isotopes to investigate weathering processes shows that radiogenic Sr isotopes provide information regarding weathering of primary phases. While the stable Sr isotope data appear to record information regarding the extent of secondary mineral formation, where secondary minerals incorporate the light isotopes, driving the dissolved load to heavy values.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-43
Number of pages10
JournalChemical Geology
Early online date10 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


  • Strontium isotopes
  • Stable strontium isotopes
  • Weathering
  • Subglacial environments

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