SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • critical zone architecture;
  • electrical resistivity tomography;
  • geomorphology;
  • stratified slope deposits;
  • Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory

ABSTRACT

The architecture of the critical zone includes the distribution, thickness, and contacts of various types of slope deposits and weathering products such as saprolite and weathered bedrock resting on solid bedrock. A quantitative analysis of architecture is necessary for many model-driven approaches used by pedologic, geomorphic, hydrologic or biologic studies. We have used electrical resistivity tomography, a well-established geophysical technique causing minimum surficial disturbance, to portray the subsurface electrical resistivity differences at three study sites (Green Lakes Valley; Gordon Gulch; Betasso) at the Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory (BcCZO). Possible limitations of the technique are discussed. Interpretation of the specific resistivity values using natural outcrops, pits, roadcuts and drilling data as ground truth information allows us to image the critical zone architecture of each site. Green Lakes Valley (3700 MASL), a glacially eroded alpine basin, shows a rather simple, split configuration with coarse blockfields and sediments, partly containing permafrost above bedrock. The critical zone in Gordon Gulch (2650 MASL), a montane basin with rolling hills, and Betasso (1925 MASL), a lower montane basin with v-shaped valleys, is more variable due to a complex Quaternary geomorphic history. Boundaries between overlying stratified slope deposits and saprolite were identified at mean depths of 3.0 ± 2.2 m and 4.1 ± 3.6 m in the respective sites. The boundary between saprolite and weathered bedrock is deeper in Betasso at 5.8 ± 3.7 m, compared with 4.3 ± 3.0 m in Gordon Gulch. In general, the data are consistent with results from seismic studies, but electrical resistivity tomography documents a 0.5–1.5 m shallower critical zone above the weathered bedrock on average. Additionally, we document high lateral variability, which results from the weathering and sedimentation history and seems to be a consistent aspect of critical zone architecture within the BcCZO. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.