Regolith formation rate from U-series nuclides: Implications from the study of a spheroidal weathering profile in the Rio Icacos watershed (Puerto Rico)

Francois Chabaux, Estelle Blaes, P Stille, Roupert R di Chiara, Anthony Dosseto, Eric Pelt, Lin Ma, Heather L Buss, Susan L Brantley

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A 2m-thick spheroidal weathering profile, developed on a quartz-diorite in the Rio Icacos watershed (Luquillo Mountains, eastern Puerto Rico), was analysed for major and trace element concentrations, Sr and Nd isotopic ratios and U-series nuclides (238U-234U-230Th-226Ra). In this profile a 40 cm thick soil horizon is overlying a 150 cm thick saprolite which is separated from the basal corestone by a ∼40 cm thick rindlet zone. The Sr and Nd isotopic variations along the whole profile imply that, in addition to geochemical fractionations associated to water-rock interactions, the geochemical budget of the profile is influenced by a significant accretion of atmospheric dusts. The mineralogical and geochemical variations along the profile also confirm that the weathering front does not progress continuously from the top to the base of the profile. The upper part of the profile is probably associated with a different weathering system (lateral weathering of upper corestones) than the lower part, which consists of the basal corestone, the associated rindlet system and the saprolite in contact with these rindlets. Consequently, the determination of weathering rates from 238U-234U-230Th-226Ra disequilibrium in a series of samples collected along a vertical depth profile can only be attempted for samples collected in the lower part of the profile, i.e. the rindlet zone and the lower saprolite. Similar propagation rates were derived for the rindlet system and the saprolite by using classical models involving loss and gain processes for all nuclides to interpret the variation of U-series nuclides in the rindlet-saprolite subsystem. The consistency of these weathering rates with average weathering and erosion rates derived via other methods for the whole watershed provides a new and independent argument that, in the Rio Icacos watershed, the weathering system has reached a geomorphologic steady state. Our study also indicates that even in environments with differential weathering, such as observed for the Puerto Rico site, the radioactive disequilibrium between the nuclides of a single radioactive series (here 238U-234U-230Th-226Ra) can still be interpreted in terms of a simplified scenario of homogeneous weathering. Our work also highlights the viability of coupling 230Th-234U and 226Ra-230Th disequilibrium to determine weathering rates in a differential weathering context. Incidentally, the U-Th-Ra disequilibrium in the corestone samples confirms that the outermost part of the corestone is already weathered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-95
Number of pages23
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Early online date3 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 21/09/2012


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  • WEBB: USGS Water Energy and Biogeochemical Budgets

    Buss, H. L., Scholl, M., White, A. F. & Shanley, J.

    1/10/91 → …

    Project: Research

  • LCZO: Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory

    Buss, H. L., Brantley, S. L., Scatena, F. N., Silver, W., Plante, A., Willenbring, J., McDowell, W., Shanley, J., White, A. F., Scholl, M., Johnson, A., Jerolmack, D., Horton, B., Chapela Lara, M. & Moore, O. W.


    Project: Research

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