Silicate versus carbonate weathering in Iceland: New insights from Ca isotopes

Andrew D. Jacobson*, M. Grace Andrews, Gregory O. Lehn, Chris Holmden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Several studies have measured riverine fluxes of Ca and carbonate alkalinity in Iceland with the aim of quantifying the role of basalt weathering in the long-term carbon cycle. A major assumption is that all of the Ca and alkalinity originates from the dissolution of Ca-bearing silicate minerals, such as plagioclase and clinopyroxene. However, hydrothermal calcite occurs throughout Iceland, and even trace levels are expected to impact river geochemistry owing to the mineral's high solubility and fast dissolution rate. To test this hypothesis, we used a new, high-precision Ca isotope MC-TIMS method (δ44/40Ca; 2σSD=±0.04‰) to trace sources of Ca in Icelandic rivers. We report elemental and Ca isotope data for rivers, high- and low-temperature groundwater, basalt, hydrothermal calcite (including Iceland Spar), and stilbite and heulandite, which are two types of zeolites commonly formed during low-grade metamorphism of basalt. In agreement with previous research, we find that rivers have higher δ44/40Ca values than basalt, with a maximum difference of ~0.40‰. This difference may reflect isotope fractionation in the weathering zone, i.e., preferential uptake of 40Ca during clay mineral formation, adsorption, and other geochemical processes that cycle Ca. However, calcite δ44/40Ca values are also up to ~0.40‰ higher than bedrock values, and on a diagram of δ44/40Ca versus Sr/Ca, nearly all waters plot within a plausible mixing domain bounded by the measured compositions of basalt and calcite, with glacial rivers plotting closer to calcite than non-glacial rivers. Calcite and heulandite form during hydrothermal alteration of basalt in the deep lava pile and often occur together in metabasalts now exposed at the surface. Because heulandite δ44/40Ca values are ~1-2‰ lower than basalt, we suggest that 40Ca uptake by heudlandite explains the relatively high δ44/40Ca values of calcite and that calcite weathering in turn elevates riverine δ44/40Ca values. High mechanical erosion rates are known to facilitate the exposure and weathering of calcite, which explains the isotopic contrast between glacial and non-glacial watersheds. Using a mixing model, we find that calcite weathering provides ~0-65% of the Ca in non-glacial rivers and ~25-90% of the Ca in glacial rivers, with silicate weathering providing the remainder. Icelandic hydrothermal calcite contains mantle carbon. Noting that zeolite facies metamorphism and hydrothermal fluid circulation are ubiquitous characteristics of basaltic eruptions and assuming that hydrothermal calcite in other basaltic settings also contains mantle carbon, we suggest that the contribution of basalt weathering to long-term CO2 drawdown and climate regulation may be less significant than previously realized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-142
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Apr 5 2015


  • Ca isotopes
  • Chemical weathering
  • Iceland
  • Isotope fractionation
  • Long-term carbon cycle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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