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Isotopic tracing of silicate and carbonate weathering in the Himalayan erosional system

Abstract : Weathering of Himalayan lithologies has had a potential impact on the global carbon cycle. To be able to constrain and understand the processes that occurred in the Himalayas that affected these cycles, we must be able to distinguish the signatures of silicate and carbonate weathering in the dissolved load of Himalayan rivers. Previous studies have attempted to do this using a variety of methods but there is still not a clear consensus on the magnitude and flux of silicate weathering in the Himalaya. This thesis proposes the use of 40Ca as a tracer that could improve the quantification of the silicate and carbonate weathering flux in the dissolved load of Himalayan rivers. Previous work has shown that the 40Ca budget of seawater is dominated by a mantle source, such that marine carbonates have a homogeneous 40Ca signature indistinguishable from the mantle value. In contrast, the upper silicate crust is expected to have developed a radiogenic composition. The difference between the radiogenic Ca signature of carbonate and silicate lithologies can be therefore used to differentiate between carbonate and silicate weathering in the dissolved load of rivers. Here, we present a geochemical survey, including radiogenic Ca analyses, of rivers draining the main lithological units of the Himalaya, as well as results from sediments, bedrock, soil and gravel. Our results show that Himalayan carbonates exhibit no radiogenic 40Ca excesses despite highly variable 87Sr/86Sr signatures, whereas sediments are variably radiogenic (+0.9 to +4). This suggests that for Ca, unlike for Sr, isotopic exchange between the silicate and carbonate lithologies has been minimal. The radiogenic Ca composition of river water ranges from +0.1 in carbonate dominated catchments to +11 in rivers draining silicate catchments. For large rivers, silicate and carbonate weathering budget estimates based on major elements and radiogenic Ca compositions tend to agree. However, for some smaller rivers, especially those draining silicate dominated basins in the HHC and LH formations, some discrepancies are observed. These cannot be attributed to poor definition of the chemical or radiogenic Ca composition of the endmembers used for budget modeling, as the values required to bring the estimates into agreement are unreasonable. They also cannot be explained by precipitation of secondary carbonates in the rivers as the non-radiogenic composition of the carbonate fraction of sediments suggests that this process is only minor. Rather, these discrepancies may be due to the dissolution/weathering of trace amounts of radiogenic calcite contained within HHC and LH silicate lithologies. The weathering of such material, which represents only a tiny fraction of the area of the silicate catchment, could yield a substantial proportion of the radiogenic Ca and may thus have a significant influence on the isotopically based weathering budgets of these basins. Nevertheless, as this effect is observed primarily in basins with low silicate erosion rates, its influence on estimates of the overall silicate weathering flux will be minor. More generally, the results of this thesis imply that the 40K–40Ca system can resolve issues that cannot be successfully addressed using Sr isotopes in the Himalaya. Further work is needed to define the full range of radiogenic Ca compositions in the Himalaya in order to clearly answer questions regarding silicate weathering fluxes.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - 2:09:44 PM
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Jesse Davenport. Isotopic tracing of silicate and carbonate weathering in the Himalayan erosional system. Earth Sciences. Université de Lorraine, 2018. English. ⟨NNT : 2018LORR0241⟩. ⟨tel-02125801⟩



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