Spatial patterns and controls of soil chemical weathering rates along a transient hillslope

Kyungsoo Yoo, Simon Marius Mudd, Jonathan Sanderman, Ronald Amundson, Alex Blum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Hillslopes have been intensively studied by both geomorphologists and soil scientists. Whereas geomorphologists have focused on the physical soil production and transport on hillslopes, soil scientists have been concerned with the topographic variation of soil geochemical properties. We combined these differing approaches and quantified soil chemical weathering rates along a grass covered hillslope in Coastal California. The hillslope is comprised of both erosional and depositional sections. In the upper eroding section, soil production is balanced by physical erosion and chemical weathering. The hillslope then transitions to a depositional slope where soil accumulates due to a historical reduction of channel incision at the hillslope's base. Measurements of hillslope morphology and soil thickness were combined with the elemental composition of the soil and saprolite, and interpreted through a process-based model that accounts for both chemical weathering and sediment transport. Chemical weathering of the minerals as they moved downslope via sediment transport imparted spatial variation in the geochemical properties of the soil. Inverse modeling of the field and laboratory data revealed that the long-term soil chemical weathering rates peak at 5 g m- 2 yr- 1 at the downslope end of the eroding section and decrease to 1.5 g m- 2 yr- 1 within the depositional section. In the eroding section, soil chemical weathering rates appear to be primarily controlled by the rate of mineral supply via colluvial input from upslope. In the depositional slope, geochemical equilibrium between soil water and minerals appeared to limit the chemical weathering rate. Soil chemical weathering was responsible for removing 6% of the soil production in the eroding section and 5% of colluvial influx in the depositional slope. These were among the lowest weathering rates reported for actively eroding watersheds, which was attributed to the parent material with low amount of weatherable minerals and intense coating of the primary minerals by secondary clay and iron oxides. We showed that both the morphologic disequilibrium of the hillslope and the spatial heterogeneity of soil properties are due to spatial variations in the physical and chemical processes that removed mass from the soil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-193
Number of pages10
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 30 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is partially supported by NSF EAR0819064 grant to K. Yoo and S. Mudd. Thoughtful comments by George Hilley and an anonymous reviewer significantly improved this paper. The authors thank Golden Gate National Recreation Area in National Park Service for their cooperation during the research.


  • channel incision
  • erosion
  • hillslope processes
  • sediment transport
  • soil geochemistry
  • weathering


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