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Keywords:

  • critical zone;
  • drilling;
  • corestones;
  • regolith;
  • weathering

ABSTRACT

Recent work has suggested that weathering processes occurring in the subsurface produce the majority of silicate weathering products discharged to the world's oceans, thereby exerting a primary control on global temperature via the well-known positive feedback between silicate weathering and CO2. In addition, chemical and physical weathering processes deep within the critical zone create aquifers and control groundwater chemistry, watershed geometry and regolith formation rates. Despite this, most weathering studies are restricted to the shallow critical zone (e.g. soils, outcrops). Here we investigate the chemical weathering, fracturing and geomorphology of the deep critical zone in the Bisley watershed in the Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory, Puerto Rico, from two boreholes drilled to 37.2 and 27.0 m depth, from which continuous core samples were taken. Corestones exposed aboveground were also sampled. Weathered rinds developed on exposed corestones and along fracture surfaces on subsurface rocks slough off of exposed corestones once rinds attain a thickness up to ~1 cm, preventing the corestones from rounding due to diffusion limitation. Such corestones at the land surface are assumed to be what remains after exhumation of similar, fractured bedrock pieces that were observed in the drilled cores between thick layers of regolith. Some of these subsurface corestones are massive and others are highly fractured, whereas aboveground corestones are generally massive with little to no apparent fracturing. Subsurface corestones are larger and less fractured in the borehole drilled on a road where it crosses a ridge compared with the borehole drilled where the road crosses the stream channel. Both borehole profiles indicate that the weathering zone extends to well below the stream channel in this upland catchment; hence weathering depth is not controlled by the stream level within the catchment and not all of the water in the watershed is discharged to the stream. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.