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Chemical Weathering in a Tropical Watershed, Luquillo Mountains, Puerto Rico: III. Quartz Dissolution Rates

Marjorie S. Schulz and Art F. White

U.S. Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Rd., Menlo Park, CA, USA


The paucity of weathering rates for quartz in the natural environment stems both from the slow rate at which quartz dissolves and the difficulty in differentiating solute Si contributed by quartz from that derived from other silicate minerals. This study, a first effort in quantifying natural rates of quartz dissolution, takes advantage of extremely rapid tropical weathering, simple regolith mineralogy and detailed information on hydrologic and chemical transport. Quartz abundances and grain sizes are relatively constant with depth in a thick saprolite. Limited quartz dissolution is indicated by solution rounding of primary angularity and by the formation of etch pits. A low correlation of surface area (0.14 and 0.42 m2 g-1) with grain size indicates that internal microfractures and pitting are the principal contributors to total surface area.

Pore water silica concentration increases linearly with depth. On a molar basis, between one and three quarters of pore water silica is derived from quartz with the remainder contributed from biotite weathering. Average solute Si remains thermodynamically undersaturated with respect to recently revised estimates of quartz solubility (<180 micrometers) but exceeds estimated critical saturation concentrations controlling the initiation of etch pit formation (>17 to 81 micrometers). Etch pitting is more abundant on grains in the upper saprolite and is associated with pore waters lower in dissolved silica. Rate constants describing quartz dissolution increase with decreasing depth (from 10-14.5 to 10-15.1 mol m-2 s-1), which correlate with both greater thermodynamic undersaturation, and increasing etch pit densities. Unlike for many aluminosilicates, the calculated natural weathering rates of quartz fall slightly below the rate constants previously reported for experimental studies (10-12.4 to 10-14.2 mol m-2s-1. This agreement reflects the structural simplicity of quartz, dilute solutes and near-hydrologic saturation.

Schulz, M.S. and White, A.F., 1999, Chemical Weathering in a Tropical Watershed, Luquillo Mountains, Puerto Rico: III. Quartz Dissolution Rates: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 63, p. 337-350.

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