Physical weathering by glaciers enhances silicon mobilisation and isotopic fractionation

Jade Hatton*, Katharine Hendry, Jon R Hawkings, Jemma L Wadham, Liane G. Benning, R Blukis, V Roddatis, Hong Chin Ng, Tong Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

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

2 Citations (Scopus)
63 Downloads (Pure)


Glacial meltwaters export substantial quantities of dissolved and dissolvable amorphous silicon (DSi and ASi), providing an essential nutrient for downstream diatoms. Evidence suggests that glacially exported DSi is isotopically light compared to DSi in non-glaciated rivers. However, the isotopic fractionation mechanisms are not well constrained, indicating an important gap in our understanding of processes in the global Si cycle. We use rock crushing experiments to mimic subglacial physical erosion, to provide insight into subglacial isotope fractionation. Isotopically light DSi (δ30SiDSi) released following initial dissolution of freshly ground mineral surfaces (down to −2.12 ± 0.02 ‰) suggests mechanochemical reactions induce isotopic fractionation, explaining the low δ30SiDSi composition of subglacial runoff. ASi with a consistent isotopic composition is present in all mechanically weathered samples, but concentrations are elevated in samples that have undergone more intense physical grinding. These experiments illustrate the critical role of physical processes in driving isotopic fractionation and biogeochemical weathering in subglacial environments. Understanding perturbations in high latitude Si cycling under climatic change will likely depend on the response of mechanochemical weathering to increased glacial melt.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-12
Number of pages6
JournalGeochemical Perspectives Letters
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2021


  • silicon isotopes
  • subglacial weathering
  • physical erosion
  • dissolution
  • batch experiments


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