The impact of local geochemical variability on quantifying hillslope soil production and chemical weathering

Arjun Heimsath, Benjamin C. Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Soil-mantled upland landscapes are widespread across the habitable world, support extensive life, and are the interface between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere but typically are not cultivated. Soil found across such landscapes fits the conceptual framework of a physically mobile layer derived from the underlying parent material along with some locally derived organic content. The extent and persistence of these upland soils depend on the long-term balance between soil production and erosion. Here we briefly review methods used to quantify the physical and chemical processes of soil production and erosion and revisit three granitic study areas in southeastern Australia and northern California that enabled early quantification of the soil production function and topographic controls on chemical weathering. We then present new major and trace element data from 2-m by 2-m pits dug at each field site to quantify local variability of Zr concentrations and the chemical index of alteration (CIA), weathering indices used to determine chemical weathering rates and extents in soils and saprolites. Using both new and previously published data, we compare differences between local variability and regional, as well as intersite variability of these important indices. For each of the 2-m pits, we collected 25 samples and found that the simple mean and the 2. σ standard deviation best describe the local variation in the data. We also find that the variability in the 2-m pit data lies within variability observed in the same data from samples collected in individual soil pits across each of the field sites and that the differences between sites are consistent with previously published results. These observations highlight the importance of quantifying local scale variability in studies that use similar, multifaceted measurements to quantify hillslope soil production and erosion processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-88
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Oct 15 2013


  • Erosion
  • Hillslope processes
  • Saprolite
  • Weathering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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