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Title: Silicate weathering in the Himalayas : constraints from the Li isotopic composition of river systems
Author: Bohlin, Madeleine Sassaya
ISNI:       0000 0004 7226 1429
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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Chemical weathering of silicate rock consumes atmospheric CO2 and supplies the oceans with cations, thereby controlling both seawater chemistry and climate. The rate of CO2 consumption is closely linked to the rate of CO2 outgassing from the planetary interior, providing a negative feedback loop essential to maintaining an equable climate on Earth. Reconstruction of past global temperatures indicates that a pronounced episode of global cooling began ~50 million years ago, coincident with the collision of India and Asia, and the subsequent exhumation of the Himalayas and Tibet. This has drawn attention to the possible links between exhumation, erosion, changes in silicate weathering rates, and climate. However, many of the present-day weathering processes operating on the continents remain debated and poorly constrained, hampering our interpretations of marine geochemical archives and past climatic shifts. To constrain the controls on silicate weathering, this thesis investigates the lithium (Li) isotopic composition of river waters, suspended sediments and bed load sediments in the Alaknanda river basin, forming the headwaters of the Ganges. Due to the large fractionation of Li isotopes in the Earth’s surface environment, Li is sensitive to small changes in silicate weathering processes. As a consequence of the pronounced gradients in climate (rainfall and temperature) and erosion across the basin, the river waters show large variations in their Li isotopic composition (δ7Li), ranging from +7.4 to +35.4‰, covering much of the observed global variation. This allows a detailed investigation of the controls on Li isotope fractionation, and by extension silicate weathering. The Li isotopic composition is modelled using a one-dimensional reactive transport model. The model incorporates the continuous input of Li from rock dissolution, removal due to secondary mineral formation, and hydrology along subsurface flow paths. Modelling shows that the Li isotopic variations can be described by two dimensionless variables; (1) the Damköhler number, ND, which relates the silicate dissolution rate to the fluid transit time, and (2) the net partition coefficient of Li during weathering, kp, describing the partitioning of Li between secondary clay minerals and water, which is primarily controlled by the stoichiometry of the weathering reactions. The derived values of the controlling parameters ND and kp, are investigated over a range of climatic conditions and on a seasonal basis, shedding light onto variations in the silicate weathering cycle. In a kinetically limited weathering regime such as the Himalayan Mountains, both climate and erosion exert critical controls the weathering intensity (the fraction of eroded rock which is dissolved) and the weathering progression (which minerals that are being weathered), and consequently the fractionation of Li isotopes and silicate weathering in general. Modelling of the Li isotopic composition provides an independent estimate of the parameters which control silicate weathering. These estimates are then used to constrain variables such as subsurface fluid flux, silicate dissolution rates, fluid transit times and the fraction of rock which is weathered to form secondary clay minerals. The simple one-dimensional reactive transport model therefore provides a powerful tool to investigate the minimum controls on silicate weathering on the continents.
Supervisor: Bickle, Michael Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Chemical weathering ; River chemistry ; Lithium isotopes ; Reactive transport ; Himalayas ; India ; Alaknanda ; Isotope geochemistry ; MC-ICP-MS ; Nepal ; Gorkha earthquake ; Suspended sediment chemistry ; bedload sediment chemistry ; Ganges