Holocene evolution in weathering and erosion patterns in the Pearl River delta



[1] Sediments in the Pearl River delta have the potential to record the weathering response of this river basin to climate change since 9.5 ka, most notably weakening of the Asian monsoon since the Early Holocene (∼8 ka). Cores from the Pearl River delta show a clear temporal evolution of weathering intensity, as measured by K/Al, K/Rb, and clay mineralogy, that shows deposition of less weathered sediment at a time of weakening monsoon rainfall in the Early-Mid Holocene (6.0–2.5 ka). This may reflect an immediate response to a less humid climate, or more likely reduced reworking of older deposits from river terraces as the monsoon weakened. Human settlement of the Pearl River basin may have had a major impact on landscape and erosion as a result of the establishment of widespread agriculture. After around 2.5 ka weathering intensity sharply increased, despite limited change in the monsoon, but at a time when anthropogenic pollutants (e.g., Cu, Zn, and Pb) increased and when the flora of the basin changed. 87Sr/86Sr covaries with these other proxies but is also partly influenced by the presence of carbonate. The sediments in the modern Pearl River are even more weathered than the youngest material from the delta cores. We infer that the spread of farming into the Pearl River basin around 2.7 ka was followed by a widespread reworking of old, weathered soils after 2.5 ka, and large-scale disruption of the river system that was advanced by 2.0 ka.