Seismic evidence of glacial deposits inhibiting weathering of local bedrock at a snow-dominated subalpine watershed

Wei Wang, Po Chen, Ken Dueker, En Jui Lee, Dawei Mu, Ian Keifer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Previously glaciated landscapes are often covered with glacial sediments with poorly sorted particles. The thickness of glacial sediments can reach hundreds of meters. These sediments, which have experienced high intensity erosion through glacial transportation, are susceptible to chemical weathering processes because of the increased reactive mineral surfaces induced via erosion. Infiltrated meteoric water will first attack the glacial sediments, becoming (partially) saturated with weathering products, before interacting with the local bedrock underneath. As a consequence, the glacial deposits will hinder the weathering processes of the underlying local bedrock. In this study, we test this hypothesis by imaging the weathered layer of a previously glaciated terrain in the Medicine Bow Mountains, Wyoming using full-3D seismic ambient-noise tomography. To the best of our knowledge, our study provides the first full-3D seismic velocity model of the Critical Zone structure under a previously glaciated landscape. Our 3D seismic velocity model reveals that the saprolite weathered from local bedrock is thinner where the overlying glacial deposit layer is thicker. This anti-correlation suggests that the glacial deposits may locally protect the underlying bedrock from chemical weathering by depleting reactive chemicals in the meteoric water and (partially) saturate the meteoric water with weathering products. Our study may provide a potential counter mechanism against glaciation-induced acceleration of chemical weathering of the continents, which regulates atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and the global climate.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116517
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Nov 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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