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Rock-Weathering Rates as Functions of Time

  • Steven M. Colman (a1)

The scarcity of documented numerical relations between rock weathering and time has led to a common assumption that rates of weathering are linear. This assumption has been strengthened by studies that have calculated long-term average rates. However, little theoretical or empirical evidence exists to support linear rates for most chemical-weathering processes, with the exception of congruent dissolution processes. The few previous studies of rock-weathering rates that contain quantitative documentation of the relation between chemical weathering and time suggest that the rates of most weathering processes decrease with time. Recent studies of weathering rinds on basaltic and andesitic stones in glacial deposits in the western United States also clearly demonstrate that rock-weathering processes slow with time. Some weathering processes appear to conform to exponential functions of time, such as the square-root time function for hydration of volcanic glass, which conforms to the theoretical predictions of diffusion kinetics. However, weathering of mineralogically heterogeneous rocks involves complex physical and chemical processes that generally can be expressed only empirically, commonly by way of logarithmic time functions. Incongruent dissolution and other weathering processes produce residues, which are commonly used as measures of weathering. These residues appear to slow movement of water to unaltered material and impede chemical transport away from it. If weathering residues impede weathering processes then rates of weathering and rates of residue production are inversely proportional to some function of the residue thickness. This results in simple mathematical analogs for weathering that imply nonlinear time functions. The rate of weathering becomes constant only when an equilibrium thickness of the residue is reached. Because weathering residues are relatively stable chemically, and because physical removal of residues below the ground surface is slight, many weathering features require considerable time to reach constant rates of change. For weathering rinds on volcanic stones in the western United States, this time is at least 0.5 my.

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Quaternary Research
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