The pristine Rio Icacos watershed in the Luquillo Mountains in eastern Puerto Rico has the fastest documented weathering rate of silicate rocks on the Earth's surface. A regolith propagation rate of 58 m Ma-1 calculated from iso-volumetric saprolite formation from quartz diorite, is comparable to the estimated denudation rate (25-50 Ma-1) but is an order of magnitude faster than the global average weathering rate (6 Ma-1). Weathering occurs in two distinct environments; plagioclase and hornblende react at the saprock interface and biotite and quartz weather in the overlying thick saprolitic regolith. These environments produce distinctly different water chemistries, with K, Mg, and Si increasing linearly with depth in saprolite porewaters and with stream waters dominated by Ca, Na, and Si. Such differences are atypical of less intense weathering in temperate watersheds. Porewater chemistry in the shallow regolith is controlled by closed-system recycling of inorganic nutrients such as K. Long-term elemental fluxes through the regolith (e.g., Si = 1.7 ?? 10-8 moles m-2 s-1) are calculated from mass losses based on changes in porosity and chemistry between the regolith and bedrock and from the age of the regolith surface (200 Ma). Mass losses attributed to solute fluxes are determined using a step-wise infiltration model which calculates mineral inputs to the shallow and deep saprolite porewaters and to stream water. Pressure heads decrease with depth in the shallow regolith (-2.03 m H2O m-1), indicating that both increasing capillary tension and graviometric potential control porewater infiltration. Interpolation of experimental hydraulic conductivities produces an infiltration rate of 1 m yr-1 at average field moisture saturation which is comparable with LiBr tracer tests and with base discharge from the watershed. Short term weathering fluxes calculated from solute chemistries and infiltration rates (e.g., Si = 1.4 ?? 10-8 moles m-2 s-1) are compared to watershed flux rates (e.g., Si = 2.7 ?? 10-8 moles m-2 s-1). Consistency between three independently determined sets of weathering fluxes imply that possible changes in precipitation, temperature, and vegetation over the last several hundred thousand years have not significantly impacted weathering rates in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico. This has important ramifications for tropical environments and global climate change. Copyright ?? 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd.
Additional publication details
Chemical weathering in a tropical watershed, Luquillo Mountains, Puerto Rico: I. Long-term versus short-term weathering fluxes