Differential rates of feldspar weathering in granitic regoliths

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

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DOI: 10.1016/S0016-7037(00)00577-9



Differential rates of plagioclase and K-feldspar weathering commonly observed in bedrock and soil environments are examined in terms of chemical kinetic and solubility controls and hydrologic permeability. For the Panola regolith, in the Georgia Piedmont Province of southeastern United States, petrographic observations, coupled with elemental balances and 87Sr/86Sr ratios, indicate that plagioclase is being converted to kaolinite at depths > 6 m in the granitic bedrock. K-feldspar remains pristine in the bedrock but subsequently weathers to kaolinite at the overlying saprolite. In contrast, both plagioclase and K-feldspar remain stable in granitic bedrocks elsewhere in Piedmont Province, such as Davis Run, Virginia, where feldspars weather concurrently in an overlying thick saprolite sequence. Kinetic rate constants, mineral surface areas, and secondary hydraulic conductivities are fitted to feldspar losses with depth in the Panola and Davis Run regoliths using a time-depth computer spreadsheet model. The primary hydraulic conductivities, describing the rates of meteoric water penetration into the pristine granites, are assumed to be equal to the propagation rates of weathering fronts, which, based on cosmogenic isotope dating, are 7 m/106 yr for the Panola regolith and 4 m/106 yr for the Davis Run regolith. Best fits in the calculations indicate that the kinetic rate constants for plagioclase in both regoliths are factors of two to three times faster than K-feldspar, which is in agreement with experimental findings. However, the range for plagioclase and K-feldspar rates (kr = 1.5 x 10-17 to 2.8 x 10-16 mol m-2 s-1) is three to four orders of magnitude lower than for that for experimental feldspar dissolution rates and are among the slowest yet recorded for natural feldspar weathering. Such slow rates are attributed to the relatively old geomorphic ages of the Panola and Davis Run regoliths, implying that mineral surface reactivity decreases significantly with time. Differential feldspar weathering in the low-permeability Panola bedrock environment is more dependent on relative feldspar solubilities than on differences in kinetic reaction rates. Such weathering is very sensitive to primary and secondary hydraulic conductivities (qp and qs), which control both the fluid volumes passing through the regolith and the thermodynamic saturation of the feldspars. Bedrock permeability is primarily intragranular and is created by internal weathering of networks of interconnected plagioclase phenocrysts. Saprolite permeability is principally intergranular and is the result of dissolution of silicate phases during isovolumetric weathering. A secondary to primary hydraulic conductivity ratio of qs/qp = 150 in the Panola bedrock results in kinetically controlled plagioclase dissolution but thermodynamically inhibited K-feldspar reaction. This result is in accord with calculated chemical saturation states for groundwater sampled in the Panola Granite. In contrast, greater secondary conductivities in the Davis Run saprolite, qs/qp = 800, produces both kinetically controlled plagioclase and K-feldspar dissolution. Faster plagioclase reaction, leading to bedrock weathering in the Panola Granite but not at Davis Run, is attributed to a higher anorthite component of the plagioclase and a wetter and warmer climate. In addition, the Panola Granite has an abnormally high content of disseminated calcite, the dissolution of which precedes the plagioclase weathering front, thus creating additional secondary permeability. Copyright ?? 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd.

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Differential rates of feldspar weathering in granitic regoliths
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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
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