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

Zollinger, B. and Alewell, C. and Kneisel, C. and Brandova, D. and Petrillo, M. and Plötze, M. and Christl, M. and Egli, M.. (2016) 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). pp. 814-835.

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Spatially discontinuous permafrost conditions frequently occur in the European Alps. How soils under such conditions have evolved and how they may react to climate warming is largely unknown. This study focuses on the comparison of nearby soils that 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 soil production. Long-term chemical weathering rates, soil formation and erosion rates were assessed by using immobile elements, fine-earth stocks and meteoric 10Be. In addition, the weathering index (K + Ca)/Ti, the amount of Fe- and Al-oxyhydroxides and clay minerals 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 tendency towards less intense weathering in soils that were affected by permafrost was noted: at most sites, weathering rates, the proportion of oxyhydroxides and the weathering stage of clay minerals were lower in permafrost soils. In part, erosion rates were higher at the permafrost sites and accounted for 79–97% of the denudation rates. In general, soil formation rates (8.8–86.7 t/km2/yr) were in the expected range for Alpine soils. Independent of permafrost conditions, it seems that the local microenvironment (particularly vegetation and subsequently soil organic matter) has strongly influenced denudation rates. As the climate has varied since the beginning of soil evolution, the conditions for soil formation and weathering were not stable over time. Soil evolution in high Alpine settings is complex owing to, among others, spatio-temporal variations of permafrost conditions and thus climate. This makes predictions of future behaviour very difficult.
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Geowissenschaften > Umweltgeowissenschaften (Alewell)
UniBasel Contributors:Alewell, Christine
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Research Article
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal article
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Last Modified:30 Oct 2017 10:40
Deposited On:30 Oct 2017 10:40

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