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Soil formation and weathering in a permafrost environment of the Swiss Alps: a multi-parameter and non-steady-state approach


Zollinger, Barbara; Alewell, Christine; Kneisel, Christof; Brandová, Dagmar; Petrillo, Marta; Plötze, Michael; Christl, Marcus; Egli, Markus (2017). Soil formation and weathering in a permafrost environment of the Swiss Alps: a multi-parameter and non-steady-state approach. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 42(5):814-835.

Abstract

Spatially discontinuous permafrost conditions frequently occur in the European Alps. How soils under such conditionshave evolved and how they may react to climate warming is largely unknown. This study focuses on the comparison of nearby soilsthat are characterised by the presence or absence of permafrost (active-layer thickness: 2–3 m) in the alpine (tundra) and subalpine(forest) range of the Eastern Swiss Alps using a multi-method (geochemical and mineralogical) approach. Moreover, a new non-steady-state concept was applied to determine rates of chemical weathering, soil erosion, soil formation, soil denudation, and soilproduction. Long-term chemical weathering rates, soil formation and erosion rates were assessed by using immobile elements,fine-earth stocks and meteoric10Be. In addition, the weathering index (K + Ca)/Ti, the amount of Fe- and Al-oxyhydroxides and clayminerals characteristics were considered. All methods indicated that the differences between permafrost-affected and non-permafrost-affected soils were small. Furthermore, the soils did not uniformly differ in their weathering behaviour. A tendencytowards less intense weathering in soils that were affected by permafrost was noted: at most sites, weathering rates, the proportionof oxyhydroxides and the weathering stage of clay minerals were lower in permafrost soils. In part, erosion rates were higher atthe permafrost sites and accounted for 79–97% of the denudation rates. In general, soil formation rates (8.8–86.7 t/km2/yr) were inthe expected range for Alpine soils. Independent of permafrost conditions, it seems that the local microenvironment (particularlyvegetation and subsequently soil organic matter) has strongly influenced denudation rates. As the climate has varied since the begin-ning of soil evolution, the conditions for soil formation and weathering were not stable over time. Soil evolution in high Alpinesettings is complex owing to, among others, spatio-temporal variations of permafrost conditions and thus climate. This makes predic-tions of future behaviour very difficult.

Abstract

Spatially discontinuous permafrost conditions frequently occur in the European Alps. How soils under such conditionshave evolved and how they may react to climate warming is largely unknown. This study focuses on the comparison of nearby soilsthat are characterised by the presence or absence of permafrost (active-layer thickness: 2–3 m) in the alpine (tundra) and subalpine(forest) range of the Eastern Swiss Alps using a multi-method (geochemical and mineralogical) approach. Moreover, a new non-steady-state concept was applied to determine rates of chemical weathering, soil erosion, soil formation, soil denudation, and soilproduction. Long-term chemical weathering rates, soil formation and erosion rates were assessed by using immobile elements,fine-earth stocks and meteoric10Be. In addition, the weathering index (K + Ca)/Ti, the amount of Fe- and Al-oxyhydroxides and clayminerals characteristics were considered. All methods indicated that the differences between permafrost-affected and non-permafrost-affected soils were small. Furthermore, the soils did not uniformly differ in their weathering behaviour. A tendencytowards less intense weathering in soils that were affected by permafrost was noted: at most sites, weathering rates, the proportionof oxyhydroxides and the weathering stage of clay minerals were lower in permafrost soils. In part, erosion rates were higher atthe permafrost sites and accounted for 79–97% of the denudation rates. In general, soil formation rates (8.8–86.7 t/km2/yr) were inthe expected range for Alpine soils. Independent of permafrost conditions, it seems that the local microenvironment (particularlyvegetation and subsequently soil organic matter) has strongly influenced denudation rates. As the climate has varied since the begin-ning of soil evolution, the conditions for soil formation and weathering were not stable over time. Soil evolution in high Alpinesettings is complex owing to, among others, spatio-temporal variations of permafrost conditions and thus climate. This makes predic-tions of future behaviour very difficult.

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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:2017
Deposited On:14 Feb 2017 13:06
Last Modified:08 Dec 2017 23:40
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0197-9337
Additional Information:This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 2017, which has been published in final form at https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.4040. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving (http://olabout.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-820227.html#terms).
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.4040

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