Coupling chemical weathering with soil production across soil-mantled landscapes

Benjamin C. Burke, Arjun M. Heimsath, Arthur F. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Soil-covered upland landscapes constitute a critical part of the habitable world. Our understanding of how they evolve as a function of different climatic, tectonic and geological regimes is important across a wide range of disciplines and depends, in part, on understanding the links between chemical and physical weathering processes. Extensive previous work has shown that soil production rates decrease with increasing soil column thickness, but chemical weathering rates were not measured. Here we examine a granitic, soil-mantled hillslope at Point Reyes, California, where soil production rates were determined using in situ produced cosmogenic nuclides (10Be and 26Al), and we quantify the extent as well as the rates of chemical weathering of the saprolite from beneath soil from across the landscape. We collected saprolite samples from the base of soil pits and analysed them for abrasion pH as well as for major and trace elements by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and for clay mineralogy by X-ray diffraction spectroscopy. Our results show for the first time that chemical weathering rates decrease with increasing soil thickness and account for 13 to 51 per cent of total denudation. We also show that spatial variation in chemical weathering appears to be topographically controlled: weathering rate decreases with slope across the divergent ridge and increases with upslope contributing area in the convergent swale. Furthermore, to determine the best measure for the extent of saprolite weathering, we compared four different chemical weathering indices - the Vogt ratio, the chemical index of alteration (CIA), Parker's index, and the silicon-aluminium ratio - with saprolite pH. Measurements of the CIA were the most closely correlated with saprolite pH, showing that weathering intensity decreases linearly with an increase in saprolite pH from 4.7 to almost 7. Data presented here are among the first to couple directly rates of soil production and chemical weathering with how topography is likely to control weathering at a hillslope scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)853-873
Number of pages21
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 1 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Erosion
  • Landscape evolution
  • Saprolite
  • Weathering indices
  • pH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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