Climatic and tectonic controls on chemical weathering in the New Zealand Southern Alps

Andrew D. Jacobson*, Joel D. Blum, C. Page Chamberlain, Dave Craw, Peter O. Koons

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


Climatic and tectonic controls on the relative abundance of solutes in streams draining the New Zealand Southern Alps were investigated by analyzing the elemental and Sr isotope geochemistry of stream waters, bedload sediment, and hydrothermal calcite veins. The average relative molar abundance of major cations and Si in all stream waters follows the order Ca2+ (50%) > Si (22%) > Na+ (17%) > Mg2+ (6%) > K+ (5%). For major anions, the relative molar abundance is HCO3- (89%) > SO42- (7%) > C1- (4%). Weathering reactions involving plagioclase and volumetrically small amounts of hydrothermal calcite define the ionic chemistry of stream waters, but nearly all streams have a carbonate-dominated Ca2+ and HCO3- mass-balance. Stream water Ca/Sr and 87Sr/86Sr ratios vary from 0.173 to 0.439μmol/nmol and from 0.7078 to 07114, respectively. Consistent with the ionic budget, these ratios lie solely within the range of values measured for bedload carbonate (Ca/Sr = 0.178 to 0.886 μmol/nmol; 87Sr/86Sr = 0.7081 to 0.7118) and hydrothermal calcite veins (Ca/Sr = 0.491 to 3.33 μmol/nmol; 87Sr/86Sr = 0.7076 to 0.7097). Streams draining regions in the Southern Alps with high rates of physical erosion induced by rapid tectonic uplift and an extremely wet climate contain ∼10% more Ca2+ and ∼30% more Sr2+ from carbonate weathering compared to streams draining regions in drier, more stable landscapes. Similarily, streams draining glaciated watersheds contain ∼25% more Sr2+ from carbonate weathering compared to streams draining non-glaciated watersheds. The highest abundance of carbonate-derived solutes in the most physically active regions of the Southern Alps is attributed to the tectonic exhumation and mechanical denudation of metamorphic bedrock, which contains trace amounts of calcite estimated weather ∼350 times faster than plagioclase in this environment. In contrast, regions in the Southern Alps experiencing lower rates of uplift and erosion have a greater abundance of silicate- versus carbonate-derived cations. These findings highlighta strong coupling between physical controls on landscape development and sources of solutes to stream waters. Using the Southern Alps as a model for assesing thev role of active tectonics in geochemical cycles, this study suggests that rapid mountain uplift results in an enchanced influence of carbonate weathering on the dissolved ion composition delivered to seawater.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-46
Number of pages18
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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