skip to main content

Attention:

The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 5:00 PM ET until 11:00 PM ET on Friday, June 21 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Title: Near‐Surface Geomechanical Properties and Weathering Characteristics Across a Tectonic and Climatic Gradient in the Central Nepal Himalaya
Abstract

Shallow bedrock strength controls both landslide hazard and the rate and form of erosion, yet regional patterns in near‐surface mechanical properties are rarely known quantitatively due to the challenge in collectingin situmeasurements. Here we present seismic and geomechanical characterizations of the shallow subsurface across the central Himalayan Range in Nepal. By pairing widely distributed 1D shear wave velocity surveys and engineering outcrop descriptions per the Geological Strength Index classification system, we evaluate landscape‐scale patterns in near‐surface mechanical characteristics and their relation to environmental factors known to affect rock strength. We find that shallow bedrock strength is more dependent on the degree of chemical and physical weathering, rather than the mineral and textural differences between the metamorphic lithologies found in the central Himalaya. Furthermore, weathering varies systematically with topography. Bedrock ridge top sites are highly weathered and have S‐wave seismic velocities and shear strength characteristics that are more typical of soils, whereas sites near valley bottoms tend to be less weathered and characterized by high S‐wave velocities and shear strength estimates typical of rock. Weathering on hillslopes is significantly more variable, resulting in S‐wave velocities that range between the ridge and channel endmembers. We speculate that variability in the hillslope environment may be partly explained by the episodic nature of mass wasting, which clears away weathered material where landslide scars are recent. These results underscore the mechanical heterogeneity in the shallow subsurface and highlight the need to account for variable bedrock weathering when estimating strength parameters for regional landslide hazard analysis.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1640797
NSF-PAR ID:
10365387
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Volume:
127
Issue:
2
ISSN:
2169-9003
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    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.

     
    more » « less
  2. In weathered bedrock aquifers, groundwater is stored in pores and fractures that open as rocks are exhumed and minerals interact with meteoric fluids. Little is known about this storage because geochemical and geophysical observations are limited to pits, boreholes, or outcrops or to inferences based on indirect measurements between these sites. We trained a rock physics model to borehole observations in a well-constrained ridge and valley landscape and then interpreted spatial variations in seismic refraction velocities. We discovered that P-wave velocities track where a porosity-generating reaction initiates in shale in three boreholes across the landscape. Specifically, velocities of 2.7 ± 0.2 km/s correspond with growth of porosity from dissolution of chlorite, the most reactive of the abundant minerals in the shale. In addition, sonic velocities are consistent with the presence of gas bubbles beneath the water table under valley and ridge. We attribute this gas largely to CO2produced by 1) microbial respiration in soils as meteoric waters recharge into the subsurface and 2) the coupled carbonate dissolution and pyrite oxidation at depth in the rock. Bubbles may nucleate below the water table because waters depressurize as they flow from ridge to valley and because pores have dilated as the deep rock has been exhumed by erosion. Many of these observations are likely to also describe the weathering and flow path patterns in other headwater landscapes. Such combined geophysical and geochemical observations will help constrain models predicting flow, storage, and reaction of groundwater in bedrock systems.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Understanding how soil thickness and bedrock weathering vary across ridge and valley topography is needed to constrain the flowpaths of water and sediment production within a landscape. Here, we investigate saprolite and weathered bedrock properties across a ridge‐valley system in the Northern California Coast Ranges, USA, where topography varies with slope aspect such that north‐facing slopes have thicker soils and are more densely vegetated than south‐facing slopes. We use active source seismic refraction surveys to extend observations made in boreholes to the hillslope scale. Seismic velocity models across several ridges capture a high velocity gradient zone (from 1,000 to 2,500 m/s) located ∼4–13 m below ridgetops that coincides with transitions in material strength and chemical depletion observed in boreholes. Comparing this transition depth across multiple north‐ and south‐facing slopes, we find that the thickness of saprolite does not vary with slope aspects. Additionally, seismic survey lines perpendicular and parallel to bedding planes reveal weathering profiles that thicken upslope and taper downslope to channels. Using a rock physics model incorporating seismic velocity, we estimate the total porosity of the saprolite and find that inherited fractures contribute a substantial amount of pore space in the upper 6 m, and the lateral porosity structure varies strongly with hillslope position. The aspect‐independent weathering structure suggests that the contemporary critical zone structure at Rancho Venada is a legacy of past climate and vegetation conditions.

     
    more » « less
  4. SUMMARY

    The near-surface seismic structure (to a depth of about 1000 m), particularly the shear wave velocity (VS), can strongly affect the propagation of seismic waves and, therefore, must be accurately calibrated for ground motion simulations and seismic hazard assessment. The VS of the top (<300 m) crust is often well characterized from borehole studies, geotechnical measurements, and water and oil wells, while the velocities of the material deeper than about 1000 m are typically determined by tomography studies. However, in depth ranges lacking information on shallow lithological stratification, typically rock sites outside the sedimentary basins, the material parameters between these two regions are typically poorly characterized due to resolution limits of seismic tomography. When the alluded geological constraints are not available, models, such as the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) Community Velocity Models (CVMs), default to regional tomographic estimates that do not resolve the uppermost VS values, and therefore deliver unrealistically high shallow VS estimates. The SCEC Unified Community Velocity Model (UCVM) software includes a method to incorporate the near-surface earth structure by applying a generic overlay based on measurements of time-averaged VS in top 30 m (VS30) to taper the upper part of the model to merge with tomography at a depth of 350 m, which can be applied to any of the velocity models accessible through UCVM. However, our 3-D simulations of the 2014 Mw 5.1 La Habra earthquake in the Los Angeles area using the CVM-S4.26.M01 model significantly underpredict low-frequency (<1 Hz) ground motions at sites where the material properties in the top 350 m are significantly modified by the generic overlay (‘taper’). On the other hand, extending the VS30-based taper of the shallow velocities down to a depth of about 1000 m improves the fit between our synthetics and seismic data at those sites, without compromising the fit at well-constrained sites. We explore various tapering depths, demonstrating increasing amplification as the tapering depth increases, and the model with 1000 m tapering depth yields overall favourable results. Effects of varying anelastic attenuation are small compared to effects of velocity tapering and do not significantly bias the estimated tapering depth. Although a uniform tapering depth is adopted in the models, we observe some spatial variabilities that may further improve our method.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Rock mass strength is recognized as an important control on landscape morphology and evolution. However, the controls on rock strength in mountainous topography remain poorly characterized, in part because strength remains challenging to quantify at spatial scales relevant to geomorphology. Here we quantify the mechanical properties of rock masses using subsurface S‐wave velocities, Schmidt hammer hardness values, and Geological Strength Index (GSI) observations. We produce shallow depth profiles of rock mass shear strength using intact rock hardness as measured from a Schmidt hammer, and assessment of the structure and surface conditions of fractures using GSI. We apply these techniques to the Western Transverse Ranges, southern California, USA, where gradients in stratigraphic age and erosion rate allow us to evaluate our methodology. We resolve strength differences of 200 kPa to ∼5 MPa that appear to be related to diagenetic changes associated with the maximum burial depth of young clastic sedimentary rocks. For rocks of the same lithologic type, stratigraphic age, and inferred burial histories, we resolve smaller differences in strength (300 kPa–1.5 MPa) that appear to be positively correlated with mean erosion rates. We suggest that the increase in strength with increasing erosion rate reflects decreased residence time in the weathering zone for ranges experiencing faster fault slip rates. These findings demonstrate up to an order of magnitude variability in strength with respect to burial, erosion, and time for lithologically similar rocks. As such, lithology alone is unlikely to adequately capture the role of rock strength in landscape evolution.

     
    more » « less