Decoding potential effects of climate and vegetation change on mineral weathering in alpine soils: an experimental study in the Wind River Range (Wyoming, USA)

Climate change and a related increase in temperature, particularly in alpine areas, force both flora and fauna to adapt to the new conditions. These changes should in turn affect soil formation processes. The aim of this study was to identify possible consequences for soils in a dry-alpine region with respect to weathering of primary minerals and leaching of elements under expected vegetation and climate changes. To achieve this, a field empirical approach investigating an altitudinal sequence was used in combination with laboratory weathering experiments simulating several scenarios. The study sites are located in Sinks Canyon and Stough Basin of the Wind River Range, Wyoming, USA. The following sites (from moist to dry with increasing temperature along the sequence) were investigated: 10 soil profiles (Typic Haplocryoll) in a tundra ecotone, 10 soil profiles (Ustic Haplocryoll) in a pine-fir forest and 20 soil profiles (Ustic Argicryoll) in sagebrush. All soils developed on granitoid moraines. Soil mineralogy was analysed using cathodoluminescence and X-ray diffraction. This revealed that biotite and plagioclase were both weathered to smectite while plagioclase also weathered to kaolinite. Cooler, wetter, altitude-dependent conditions promoted weathering of primary minerals. Furthermore, the soils of the tundra and forest zone exhibited a higher acidity and more organic carbon.

Mavris, C., G. Furrer, D. Dahms, S. P. Anderson, A. Blum, Jens Goetze, A. Wells, and M. Egli. 2015. Decoding potential effects of climate and vegetation change on mineral weathering in alpine soils: an experimental study in the Wind River Range (Wyoming, USA). Geoderma 255–256: 12–26. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2015.04.014>

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