Mineral specific surface area (SSA) increases as primary minerals weather and restructure into secondary phyllosilicate, oxide, and oxyhydroxide minerals. SSA is a measurable property that captures cumulative effects of many physical and chemical weathering processes in a single measurement and has meaningful implications for many soil processes, including water-holding capacity and nutrient availability. Here we report our measurements of SSA and mineralogy of two 21 m deep SSA profiles at two landscape positions, in which the emergence of a very small mass percent (<0.1 %) of secondary oxide generated 36 %-81 % of the total SSA in both drill cores. The SSA transition occurred near 3 m at both locations and did not coincide with the boundary of soil to weathered rock. The 3 m boundary in each weathering profile coincides with the depth extent of secondary iron oxide minerals and secondary phyllosilicates. Although elemental depletions in both profiles extend to 7 and 10 m depth, the mineralogical changes did not result in SSA increase until 3 m depth. The emergence of secondary oxide minerals at 3 m suggests that this boundary may be the depth extent of oxidation weathering reactions. Our results suggest that oxidation weathering reactions may be the primary limitation in the coevolution of both secondary silicate and secondary oxide minerals. We value element depletion profiles to understand weathering, but our finding of nested weathering fronts driven by different chemical processes (e.g., oxidation to 3 m and acid dissolution to 10 m) warrants the recognition that element depletion profiles are not able to identify the full set of processes that occur in weathering profiles.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation Christina River Basin Critical Zone Observatory (grant nos. 0724971 and 1331856).
© 2023 Beth A. Fisher et al.