O2 and CO2, the two essential reactants in weathering along with water and minerals, are important in deep regolith development because they diffuse to weathering fronts at depth. We monitored the dynamics of these gas concentrations in the hand-augerable zone on three ridgetops—one on granite and two on diabase—in Virginia (VA) and Pennsylvania (PA), U.S.A. and related the gas chemistry to regolith development. The VA granite and the PA diabase protoliths were more deeply weathered than the VA diabase. We attribute this to high protolith fracture density. The pO2 and pCO2 measurements of these more fractured sites displayed the characteristics of aerobic respiration year round. In contrast, the relation of pO2 versus pCO2 on the more massive VA diabase is consistent with seasonal changes in the dominant electron acceptor from O2 to Fe(III), likely regulated by the expansion/contraction of nontronite in the soil BC horizon. These observations suggest that the fracture density is a first order control on deep regolith gas chemistry. However, fractures can be present in protolith but also can be caused by oxidation of ferrous minerals. We propose that subsurface pO2 and weathering-induced fracturing can create positive feedbacks in some lithologies that cause regolith to thicken while nonetheless maintaining aerobic respiration at depth. In contrast, in the absence of weathering-induced fracturing and depletion of pO2, a negative feedback that may be modulated by soil micro-biota ultimately results in thin regolith. These feedbacks may have been important in weathering systems over much of earth's history.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geochemistry and Petrology
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science