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The role of climate and vegetation in weathering and clay mineral formation in late Quaternary soils of the Swiss and Italian Alps


Egli, M; Mirabella, A; Sartori, G (2008). The role of climate and vegetation in weathering and clay mineral formation in late Quaternary soils of the Swiss and Italian Alps. Geomorphology, 102(3-4):307-324.

Abstract

nteractions between climate and soil remain ambiguous, particularly when silicate weathering and clay mineral formation and transformation rates are considered in relation to global climate changes. Recent studies suggest that climate affects weathering rates much less than previously thought. Here we show that the climate in the central European Alps has a significant, but indirect, influence on the weathering of soils through vegetation. The pattern of element leaching and mineral transformations is not only due to precipitation and temperature. Element leaching was greatest in subalpine forests near the timberline; weathering is lessened at higher and lower altitudes. Vegetation, therefore, contributes significantly to weathering processes. The highest accumulation of organic matter was found in climatically cooler sites (subalpine range) where the production of organic ligands, which enhance weathering, is greatest. Patterns of smectite formation and distribution had strong similarities to that of the elemental losses of Fe and Al (R = 0.69; P < 0.01) or base cations (R = 0.58; P < 0.05). Higher precipitation rates and the production of organic chelating compounds in the soil promoted the appearance of smectites. The relationship between climate, element leaching (Fe, Al, Ca, Mg, K, Na), and smectite formation is strongly nonlinear and driven by the podzolisation process, which is more pronounced near the timberline because of the bioclimatic constellation. Climate warming will probably, in the future, lead to a decrease in SOM stocks in the subalpine to alpine range because of more favourable conditions for biodegradation that would also affect weathering processes.

nteractions between climate and soil remain ambiguous, particularly when silicate weathering and clay mineral formation and transformation rates are considered in relation to global climate changes. Recent studies suggest that climate affects weathering rates much less than previously thought. Here we show that the climate in the central European Alps has a significant, but indirect, influence on the weathering of soils through vegetation. The pattern of element leaching and mineral transformations is not only due to precipitation and temperature. Element leaching was greatest in subalpine forests near the timberline; weathering is lessened at higher and lower altitudes. Vegetation, therefore, contributes significantly to weathering processes. The highest accumulation of organic matter was found in climatically cooler sites (subalpine range) where the production of organic ligands, which enhance weathering, is greatest. Patterns of smectite formation and distribution had strong similarities to that of the elemental losses of Fe and Al (R = 0.69; P < 0.01) or base cations (R = 0.58; P < 0.05). Higher precipitation rates and the production of organic chelating compounds in the soil promoted the appearance of smectites. The relationship between climate, element leaching (Fe, Al, Ca, Mg, K, Na), and smectite formation is strongly nonlinear and driven by the podzolisation process, which is more pronounced near the timberline because of the bioclimatic constellation. Climate warming will probably, in the future, lead to a decrease in SOM stocks in the subalpine to alpine range because of more favourable conditions for biodegradation that would also affect weathering processes.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:15 December 2008
Deposited On:06 Nov 2008 13:59
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:32
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0169-555X
Publisher DOI:10.1016/j.geomorph.2008.04.001
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-5000

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