Collaborative research: Quantifying weathering rind formation rates using U-series isotopes along steep gradients of precipitation, bedrock ages, and topography in Guadeloupe

Project: Research project

Project Details


The process of mechanical and chemical decomposition of volcanic rocks at the Earth's surface (i.e., weathering) regulates the global carbon cycle, releases nutrients to ecosystems, and sculpts landscapes. Despite its fundamental importance, we still lack effective tools and key observations to quantify the weathering rates of volcanic rocks and to understand how they respond to changes in climate and tectonic regime. During weathering, rock fragments in soils commonly form weathering rinds. These rinds can provide an ideal long-term record to help understand the controls of chemical weathering. Investigators propose to combine a novel U-series isotopic technique with bulk chemical, petrographic, and electron microprobe analyses to quantify formation rates of weathering rinds on the tropical volcanic Basse-Terre Island of French Guadeloupe. By comparing weathering rinds from a single watershed, they will understand the controls on weathering rind formation at the micro-scale through processes including dissolution, formation of new phases, and development of porosity. In addition, the field setting at Basse-Terre Island provides a superb natural laboratory with large environmental variables, allowing them to study rind formation along steep gradients of precipitation, bedrock ages and relief at large watershed scale. The combined analysis of weathering rinds will provide a novel and fundamental method to directly determine chemical weathering rates. This will be of broad interests to scientists worldwide studying the Critical Zone or Earth's surface layer extending from the top of the vegetative canopy to the base of groundwater. For example, such an approach provides a direct means to understand the controls on chemical weathering across different spatial scales. The gained insights will also help to understand how changes in precipitation affect mineral dissolution and reaction surfaces in rinds and soils, and how these processes control river chemistry over long time scales.

This project brings together resources and expertise from the U.S., France, and UK. Graduate and undergraduate students at Univ. of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), one of the largest Ph.D.-granting Hispanic Serving Institutes in the U.S., and Dickinson College, an undergraduate-only liberal arts college in Pennsylvania will conduct research at an international Critical Zone research site (Guadeloupe, France) and in research facilities at Pennsylvania State University, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Univ. of Strasbourg, and Univ. of Bristol. This importance is highlighted for UTEP and Dickinson College where the students are rarely exposed to such opportunities at international levels. This project will also support one early career faculty (PI Ma) at UTEP. Educational and outreach activities at UTEP and Dickson College, in collaboration with the NSF funded Pathways and STEP Scholars, as well as Earth Science Day at UTEP, will expose local high school students and general public in the rapidly growing and diverse El Paso region to cutting edge Critical Zone research topics (water, soils, and environments). The project will attract future STEM students who wish to study and solve emerging environmental problems facing the local community.

Effective start/end date9/1/138/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $52,210.00


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