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Tracing silicate weathering processes in the permafrost-dominated Lena River watershed using lithium isotopes

Murphy, MJ; Porcelli, D; Pogge Von Strandmann, PAE; Hirst, CA; Kutscher, L; Katchinoff, JA; Mörth, CM; ... Andersson, PS; + view all (2019) Tracing silicate weathering processes in the permafrost-dominated Lena River watershed using lithium isotopes. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta , 245 pp. 154-171. 10.1016/j.gca.2018.10.024. Green open access

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Abstract

Increasing global temperatures are causing widespread changes in the Arctic, including permafrost thawing and altered freshwater inputs and trace metal and carbon fluxes into the ocean and atmosphere. Changes in the permafrost active layer thickness can affect subsurface water flow-paths and water-rock interaction times, and hence weathering processes. Riverine lithium isotope ratios (reported as δ7Li) are tracers of silicate weathering that are unaffected by biological uptake, redox, carbonate weathering and primary lithology. Here we use Li isotopes to examine silicate weathering processes in one of the largest Russian Arctic rivers: the Lena River in eastern Siberia. The Lena River watershed is a large multi-lithological catchment, underlain by continuous permafrost. An extensive dataset of dissolved Li isotopic compositions of waters from the Lena River main channel, two main tributaries (the Aldan and Viliui Rivers) and a range of smaller sub-tributaries are presented from the post-spring flood/early-summer period at the onset of active layer development and enhanced water-rock interactions. The Lena River main channel (average δ7Lidiss ∼19‰) has a slightly lower isotopic composition than the mean global average of 23‰ (Huh et al., 1998a). The greatest range of [Li] and δ7Lidiss are observed in catchments draining the south-facing slopes of the Verkhoyansk Mountain Range. South-facing slopes in high-latitude, permafrost-dominated regions are typically characterised by increased summer insolation and higher daytime temperatures relative to other slope aspects. The increased solar radiation on south-facing catchments promotes repeated freeze-thaw cycles, and contributes to more rapid melting of snow cover, warmer soils, and increased active layer thaw depths. The greater variability in δ7Li and [Li] in the south-facing rivers likely reflect the greater infiltration of melt water and enhanced water-rock interactions within the active layer. A similar magnitude of isotopic fractionation is observed between the low-lying regions of the Central Siberian Plateau (and catchments draining into the Viliui River), and catchments draining the Verkhoyansk Mountain Range into the Aldan River. This is in contrast to global rivers in non-permafrost terrains that drain high elevations or areas of rapid uplift, where high degrees of physical erosion promote dissolution of freshly exposed primary rock typically yielding low δ7Lidiss, and low-lying regions exhibit high riverine δ7Li values resulting from greater water-rock interaction and formation of secondary mineral that fractionates Li isotopes. Overall, the range of Li concentrations and δ7Lidiss observed within the Lena River catchment are comparable to global rivers located in temperate and tropical regions. This suggests that cryogenic weathering features specific to permafrost regions (such as the continual exposure of fresh primary minerals due to seasonal freeze-thaw cycles, frost shattering and salt weathering), and climate (temperature and runoff), are not a dominant control on δ7Li variations. Despite vastly different climatic and weathering regimes, the same range of riverine δ7Li values globally suggests that the same processes govern Li geochemistry – that is, the balance between primary silicate mineral dissolution and the formation (or exchange with) secondary minerals. This has implications for the use of δ7Li as a palaeo-weathering tracer for interpreting changes in past weathering regimes.

Type: Article
Title: Tracing silicate weathering processes in the permafrost-dominated Lena River watershed using lithium isotopes
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2018.10.024
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2018.10.024
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Arctic, Water-rock interactions, Freeze-thaw, Hydrological cycle, Carbon cycle
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Earth Sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10060417
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