The effects of climate and landscape position on chemical denudation and mineral transformation in the Santa Catalina mountain critical zone observatory

Rebecca Lybrand, Craig Rasmussen, Angie Jardine, Peter Troch, Jon Chorover

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Understanding the interactions of climate, physical erosion, chemical weathering and pedogenic processes is essential when considering the evolution of critical zone systems. Interactions among these components are particularly important to predicting how semiarid landscapes will respond to forecasted changes in precipitation and temperature under future climate change. The primary goal of this study was to understand how climate and landscape structure interact to control chemical denudation and mineral transformation across a range of semiarid ecosystems in southern Arizona. The research was conducted along the steep environmental gradient encompassed by the Santa Catalina Mountains Critical Zone Observatory (SCM-CZO). The gradient is dominated by granitic parent materials and spans significant range in both mean annual temperature (>10°C) and precipitation (>50cma-1), with concomitant shift in vegetation communities from desert scrub to mixed conifer forest. Regolith profiles were sampled from divergent and convergent landscape positions in five different ecosystems to quantify how climate-landscape position interactions control regolith development. Regolith development was quantified as depth to paralithic contact and degree of chemical weathering and mineral transformation using a combination of quantitative and semi-quantitative X-ray diffraction (XRD) analyses of bulk soils and specific particle size classes. Depth to paralithic contact was found to increase systematically with elevation for divergent positions at approximately 28cm per 1000m elevation, but varied inconsistently for convergent positions. The relative differences in depth between convergent and divergent landscape positions was greatest at the low and high elevation sites and is hypothesized to be a product of changes in physical erosion rates across the gradient. Quartz/Plagioclase (Q/P) ratios were used as a general proxy for bulk regolith chemical denudation. Q/P was generally higher in divergent landscape positions compared to the adjacent convergent hollows. Convergent landscape positions appear to be collecting solute-rich soil-waters from divergent positions thereby inhibiting chemical denudation. Clay mineral assemblage of the low elevation sites was dominated by smectite and partially dehydrated halloysite whereas vermiculite and kaolinite were predominant in the high elevation sites. The increased depth to paralithic contact, chemical denudation and mineral transformation are likely functions of greater water availability and increased primary productivity. Landscape position within a given ecosystem exerts strong control on chemical denudation as a result of the redistribution of water and solutes across the landscape surface. The combined data from this research demonstrates a strong interactive control of climate, landscape position and erosion on the development of soil and regolith.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S80-S84
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue numberSUPPL.
StatePublished - Jun 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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