Articles | Volume 16, issue 3
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 685–697, 2012
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 685–697, 2012

Research article 06 Mar 2012

Research article | 06 Mar 2012

Soil weathering rates in 21 catchments of the Canadian Shield

D. Houle1,2, P. Lamoureux3, N. Bélanger4, M. Bouchard3, C. Gagnon1, S. Couture1, and A. Bouffard5 D. Houle et al.
  • 1Centre Saint-Laurent, Environnement Canada, 105 rue McGill, Montréal, Québec, H2Y 2E7, Canada
  • 2Direction de la recherche forestière, Forêt Québec, Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec, 2700, rue Einstein, Sainte-Foy, Québec, G1P 3W8, Canada
  • 3Département de géographie, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, QC, H3C 3P8, Canada
  • 4UER Sciences et technologies, Téluq, Université du Québec à Montréal, 100 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montréal, QC, H2X 3P2, Canada
  • 5Consortium Ouranos, 550 rue Sherbrooke ouest, 19e étage, Montréal, Québec, H3A 1B9, Canada

Abstract. Soil mineral weathering represents an essential source of nutrient base cation (Ca, Mg and K) for forest growth in addition to provide a buffering power against precipitation acidity for soils and surface waters. Weathering rates of base cations were obtained for 21 catchments located within the temperate and the boreal forest of the Canadian Shield with the geochemical model PROFILE. Weathering rates ranged from 0.58 to 4.46 kmolc ha−1 yr−1 and their spatial variation within the studied area was mostly in agreement with spatial variations in soil mineralogy. Weathering rates of Ca and Mg were significantly correlated (r = 0.80 and 0.64) with their respective lake concentrations. Weathering rates of K and Na did not correlate with lake concentrations of K and Na. The modeled weathering rates for each catchment were also compared with estimations of net catchment exportations. The result show that modeled weathering rates of Ca were not significantly different than the net catchment exportations while modeled weathering rates of Mg were higher by 51%. Larger differences were observed for K and Na weathering rates that were significantly different than net catchment exportations being 6.9 and 2.2 times higher than net exportations, respectively. The results for K were expected given its high reactivity with biotic compartments and suggest that most of the K produced by weathering reactions was retained within soil catchments and/or above ground biomass. This explanation does not apply to Na, however, which is a conservative element in forest ecosystems because of the insignificant needs of Na for soil microorganisms and above ground vegetations. It raises concern about the liability of the PROFILE model to provide reliable values of Na weathering rates. Overall, we concluded that the PROFILE model is powerful enough to reproduce spatial geographical gradients in weathering rates for relatively large areas as well as adequately predict absolute weathering rates values for the sum of base cations, Ca and Mg.