Faculty Publications


Soil formation rates on silicate parent material in alpine environments: Different approaches-different results?

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Alpine regions, Chronosequence, Soil formation, Soil residence time, Steady state

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High-mountain soils develop in particularly sensitive environments. Consequently, deciphering and predicting what drives the rates of soil formation in such environments are a major challenge. In terms of soil production or formation from chemical weathering, the predominating perception for high-mountain soils and cold environments is often that the chemical weathering 'portion' of soil development is temperature-inhibited, often to the point of non-occurrence. Several concepts exist to determine long-term rates of soil formation and development. We present three different approaches: (1) quantification of soil formation from minimally eroded soils of known age using chronosequences (known surface age and soil thickness - SAST), (2) determination of soil residence times (SRT) and production rates through chemical weathering using (un)stable isotopes (e.g. 230Th/234U activity ratios), and (3) a steady state approach using cosmogenic isotopes (e.g. 10Be).For each method, data from different climate zones, and particularly from high-mountaINS (alpine environment), are compared. The SAST and steady state approach give quite similar results for alpine environments (European Alps and the Wind River Range (Rocky Mountains, USA)). Using the SRT approach, soil formation rates in mountain areas (but having a temperate climate) do not differ greatly from the SAST and steady state approaches. Independent of the chosen approach, the results seem moderately comparable. Soil formation rates in high-mountain areas (alpine climate) range from very low to extremely high values and show a clear decreasing tendency with time. Very young soils have up to 3-4 orders of magnitude higher rates of development than old soils (105 to 106yr). This apparently is a result of kinetic limits on weathering in regions having young surfaces and supply limits to weathering on old surfaces.Due to the requirement for chemical weathering to occur, soil production rates cannot be infinitely high. Consequently, a speed limit must exist. In the literature, this limit has been set at about 320 to 450t/km2/a. Our results from the SAST approach show, however, that in alpine areas soil formation easily reaches rates of up to 800-2000t/km2/a. These data are consistent with previous studies in mountain regions demonstrating that particularly young soils intensively weather, even under continuous seasonal snowpack and, thus, that the concept of 'temperature-controlled' soil development (soil-forming intervals) in alpine regions must be reconsidered. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.

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