Sources of Sr and implications for weathering of limestone under tallgrass prairie, northeastern Kansas

TitleSources of Sr and implications for weathering of limestone under tallgrass prairie, northeastern Kansas
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsWood, HK, Macpherson, GL
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Pagination2325 -2342
Accession NumberKNZ001050

Grasslands of north-central Kansas are underlain by carbonate aquifers and shale aquitards. Chemical weathering rates in carbonates are poorly known, and, because large areas are underlain by these rocks, solute fluxes are important to estimating global weathering rates. Grasslands exist where the amount of precipitation is extremely variable, both within and between years, so studies in grasslands must account for changes in weathering that accompany changes in precipitation. This study: (1) identifies phases that dominate chemical fluxes at Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS) and Long-Term Ecological Research Site, and (2) addresses the impact of variable precipitation on mineral weathering. The study site is a remnant tallgrass prairie in the central USA, representing baseline weathering in a mid-temperate climate grassland.

Groundwater chemistry and hydrology in the 1.2 km2 watershed used for this study suggest close connections between groundwater and surface water. Water levels fluctuate seasonally. High water levels coincide with periods of precipitation plus low evapotranspiration rather than during precipitation peaks during the growing season. Precipitation is concentrated before recharging aquifers, suggesting an as yet unquantified residence time in the thin soils.

Groundwater and surface water are oversaturated with respect to calcite within limitations of available data. Water is more dilute in more permeable aquifers, and water from one aquifer (Morrill) is indistinguishable from surface water. Cations other than Ca co-vary with each other, especially Sr and Mg. Potassium and Si co-vary in all aquifers and surface water, and increases in concentrations of these elements are the best indicators of silicate weathering at this study site. Silicate-weathering indices correlate inversely to aquifer hydraulic conductivity.

87Sr/86Sr in water ranges from 0.70838 to 0.70901, and it decreases with increasing Sr concentration and with increasing silicate-weathering index. Carbonate extracted from aquifer materials, shales, soil, and tufa has Sr ranging from about 240 (soil) to 880 ppm (Paleozoic limestone). 87Sr/86Sr ranges from 0.70834 ± 0.00006 (limestone) to 0.70904 ± 0.00019 (soil). In all cases, 87Sr/86Sr of aquifer limestone is lower than 87Sr/86Sr of groundwater, indicating a phase in addition to aquifer carbonate is contributing solutes to water.

Aquifer recharge controls weathering: during periods of reduced recharge, increased residence time increases the total amount of all phases dissolved. Mixing analysis using 87Sr/86Sr shows that two end members are sufficient to explain sources of dissolved Sr. It is proposed that the less radiogenic end member is a solution derived from dissolving aquifer material; longer residence time increases its contribution. The more radiogenic end member solution probably results from reaction with soil carbonate or eolian dust. This solution dominates solute flux in all but the least permeable aquifer and demonstrates the importance that land-surface and soil-zone reactions have on groundwater chemistry in a carbonate terrain.