Weathering processes weaken and break apart rock, freeing nutrients and enhancing permeability through the subsurface. To better understand these processes, it is useful to constrain physical properties of materials derived from weathering within the critical zone. Foliated rocks exhibit permeability, strength and seismic anisotropy–the former two bear hydrological and geomorphological consequences while the latter is geophysically quantifiable. Each of these types of anisotropy are related to rock fabric (fractures and foliation); thus, characterizing weathering‐dependent changes in rock fabric with depth may have a range of implications (e.g., landslide susceptibility, groundwater modeling, and landscape evolution). To better understand how weathering effects rock fabric, we quantify seismic anisotropy in saprolite and weathered bedrock within two catchments underlain by the Precambrian Loch Raven schist, located in Oregon Ridge Park, MD. Using circular geophone arrays and perpendicular seismic refraction profiles, anisotropy versus depth functions are created for material 0–25 m below ground surface (bgs). We find that anisotropy is relatively low (0%–15%) in the deepest material sampled (12–25 m bgs) but becomes more pronounced (29%–33%) at depths corresponding with saprolite and highly weathered bedrock (5–12 m bgs). At shallow soil depths (0–5 m bgs), material is seismically isotropic, indicating that mixing processes have destroyed parent fabric. Therefore, in situ weathering and anisotropy appear to be correlated, suggesting that in‐place weathering amplifies the intrinsic anisotropy of bedrock.
As bedrock weathers to regolith – defined here as weathered rock, saprolite, and soil – porosity grows, guides fluid flow, and liberates nutrients from minerals. Though vital to terrestrial life, the processes that transform bedrock into soil are poorly understood, especially in deep regolith, where direct observations are difficult. A 65-m-deep borehole in the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory, South Carolina, provides unusual access to a complete weathering profile in an Appalachian granitoid. Co-located geophysical and geochemical datasets in the borehole show a remarkably consistent picture of linked chemical and physical weathering processes, acting over a 38-m-thick regolith divided into three layers: soil; porous, highly weathered saprolite; and weathered, fractured bedrock. The data document that major minerals (plagioclase and biotite) commence to weather at 38 m depth, 20 m below the base of saprolite, in deep, weathered rock where physical, chemical and optical properties abruptly change. The transition from saprolite to weathered bedrock is more gradational, over a depth range of 11–18 m. Chemical weathering increases steadily upward in the weathered bedrock, with intervals of more intense weathering along fractures, documenting the combined influence of time, reactive fluid transport, and the opening of fractures as rock is exhumed and transformed near Earth’s surface.more » « less
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- Nature Publishing Group
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- Scientific Reports
- Medium: X
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- National Science Foundation
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