Exploring an ‘ideal hill': how lithology and transport mechanisms affect the possibility of a steady state during weathering and erosion

Marina I. Lebedeva, Susan L. Brantley

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10 Scopus citations


We present a model of chemical reaction within hills to explore how evolving porosity (and by inference, permeability) affects flow pathways and weathering. The model consists of hydrologic and reactive-transport equations that describe alteration of ferrous minerals and feldspar. These reactions were chosen because previous work emphasized that oxygen- and acid-driven weathering affects porosity differently in felsic and mafic rocks. A parameter controlling the order of the fronts is presented. In the absence of erosion, the two reaction fronts move at different velocities and the relative depths depend on geochemical conditions and starting composition. In turn, the fronts and associated changes in porosity drastically affect both the vertical and lateral velocities of water flow. For these cases, estimates of weathering advance rates based on simple models that posit unidirectional constant-velocity advection do not apply. In the model hills, weathering advance rates diminish with time as the Darcy velocities decrease with depth. The system can thus attain a dynamical steady state at any erosion rate where the regolith thickness is constant in time and velocities of both fronts become equal to one another and to the erosion rate. The slower the advection velocities in a system, the faster it attains a steady state. For example, a massive rock with relatively fast-dissolving minerals such as diabase – where solute transport across the reaction front mainly occurs by diffusion – can reach a steady state more quickly than granitoid rocks in which advection contributes to solute transport. The attainment of a steady state is controlled by coupling between weathering and hydrologic processes that force water to flow horizontally above reaction fronts where permeability changes rapidly with depth and acts as a partial barrier to fluid flow. Published 2020. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)652-665
Number of pages14
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 15 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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