Alpine/subalpine basins may exhibit substantial variability in solute fluxes despite many apparent similarities in basin characteristics. An evaluation of controls on spatial patterns in solute fluxes may allow development of predictive tools for assessing basin sensitivity to outside perturbations such as climate change or deposition of atmospheric pollutants. Relationships between basin physical characteristics, determined from geographical information system (GIS) tools, and solute fluxes and mineral weathering rates were explored for nine alpine/subalpine basins in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, using correlation analyses for 1993 and 1994 data. Stream-water nitrate fluxes were correlated positively with basin characteristics associated with the talus environment; i.e., the fractional amounts of steep slopes (??? 30??), unvegetated terrain and young debris (primarily Holocene till) in the basins, and were correlated negatively with fractional amounts of subalpine meadow terrain. Correlations with nitrate indicate the importance of the talus environment in promoting nitrate flux and the mitigating effect of areas with established vegetation, such as subalpine meadows. Total mineral weathering rates for the basins ranged from about 300 to 600 mol ha-1 year -1. Oligoclase weathering accounted for 30 to 73% of the total mineral weathering flux, and was positively correlated with the amount of old debris (primarily Pleistocene glacial till) in the basins. Although calcite is found in trace amounts in bedrock, calcite weathering accounted for up to 44% of the total mineral weathering flux. Calcite was strongly correlated with steep slope, unvegetated terrain, and young debris-probably because physical weathering in steep-gradient areas exposes fresh mineral surfaces that contain calcite for chemical weathering. Oligoclase and calcite weathering are the dominant sources of alkalinity in the basins. However, atmospherically deposited acids consume much of the alkalinity generated by weathering of calcite and other minerals in the talus environment. Published in 2001 by John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.
Additional publication details
Effect of basin physical characteristics on solute fluxes in nine alpine/subalpine basins, Colorado, USA