Insights on catchment-wide weathering regimes from boron isotopes in riverine material
Chemical weathering contributes to the regulation of the global carbon cycle and biogeochemical cycles. Accordingly, the identification of the parameters that control weathering reactions and transport of weathering signals at the catchment scale is essential. The use of boron (B) isotopes have been shown to be a useful proxy in tracing weathering reactions due to large isotope fractionation during weathering processes. However, our knowledge of how boron isotopes record the weathering regime at the catchment scale and how that weathering signal is transported from source areas to the depositional environment remains limited. Here we characterize B isotope and major element behavior during chemical weathering and transport by analyzing the B isotopic (δ11B) and element compositions of riverine material (riverbank sands (<63 >µm), clay fractions (<2 >µm) extracted from sands, and dissolved load) along the course of the Murrumbidgee River (NSW, Australia), its upstream tributaries, and monolithologic subcatchments. In the Murrumbidgee, two distinct weathering regimes are present, one where mineral dissolution is associated with minimal neoformation at higher elevations and another where mineral neoformation dominates at lower elevations and in granitic lithologies. Significant B isotope difference between the clay fraction and the bedrock (Δ11Bclay-bedrock) is observed in most monolithological catchments at high mean elevation (excluding granites), which correlates with a large B depletion. Smaller isotope difference between the clay fraction and bedrock is observed in monolithological catchments at lower elevations as well as in granitic catchments at all elevations and is associated with limited B removal. These results suggest that lithology and catchment topography influence B mobility during weathering and the isotopic composition of weathering products. By mass balance calculation, the B isotope and chemical composition of the clay and sand fractions in the Murrumbidgee River can be explained as a mixture of the clays and sands produced throughout the catchment delivered to the main channel by the tributaries. These results indicate that there is little or no chemical and isotopic modification of the river sediment during fluvial transport and that weathering signal produced in the sediment source areas is transferred to the depositional environment without significant modification. The boron content of the clay-sized fraction (∼40 ppm) is several orders of magnitude greater than that of the dissolved load while B isotope compositions of the clay-sized fraction are isotopically much lighter (up to 40‰). Because a maximum isotopic difference of 30‰ between the dissolved and solid phases is expected during adsorption processes, the observed isotope compositions in the dissolved load and the sediment clay fraction cannot be explained by pH-driven B partitioning. These observations suggest that clays are not directly precipitating from solutions compositionally similar to surface waters; deeper soil solutions are expected to play a significant role in clay formation. This research highlights the potential of B isotopes in river sediments to describe the present and past weathering regimes at the catchment scale, including possible paleoenvironment reconstruction as the B isotope signature of riverine material records the conditions of its formation.