Geophysical imaging reveals topographic stress control of bedrock weathering.


Bedrock fracture systems facilitate weathering, allowing fresh mineral surfaces to interact with corrosive waters and biota from Earth's surface, while simultaneously promoting drainage of chemically equilibrated fluids. We show that topographic perturbations to regional stress fields explain bedrock fracture distributions, as revealed by seismic velocity and electrical resistivity surveys from three landscapes. The base of the fracture-rich zone mirrors surface topography where the ratio of horizontal compressive tectonic stresses to near-surface gravitational stresses is relatively large, and it parallels the surface topography where the ratio is relatively small. Three-dimensional stress calculations predict these results, suggesting that tectonic stresses interact with topography to influence bedrock disaggregation, groundwater flow, chemical weathering, and the depth of the "critical zone" in which many biogeochemical processes occur.





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Publication Info

St Clair, J, S Moon, WS Holbrook, JT Perron, CS Riebe, SJ Martel, B Carr, C Harman, et al. (2015). Geophysical imaging reveals topographic stress control of bedrock weathering. Science (New York, N.Y.), 350(6260). pp. 534–538. 10.1126/science.aab2210 Retrieved from

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