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Seasonal variations of physical and chemical erosion: A three-year survey of the Rhone River (France)

Abstract : Numerous studies of weathering fluxes have been carried out on major world rivers during the last decade, to estimate CO, consumption rates, landscape evolution and global erosion rates. For obvious logistical reasons, most of these studies were based on large scale investigations carried out oil short timescales. By comparison, much less effort has been devoted to long term monitoring, as a means to verify the temporal variability of the average characteristics, their trends, and the representativeness of short-term investigations. Here we report the results of a three-year survey (November 2000 to December 2003) of the major and trace element composition of dissolved and suspended matter in the lower Rhone River (France), the largest river of the Mediterranean area. Subsurface water samples were collected in Arles, about 48 kill upstream of the estuary, twice a month routinely, and at higher frequency during flood events. During each flood event, the suspended particulate matter (SPM) show the usual trend of clockwise hysteresis with higher SPM concentrations oil the rising limb of the flood than at the same discharge on the falling limb. We show that the annual average SPM flux of the Rhone River to the Mediterranean Sea (7.3 +/- 0.6 x 10(6) tons yr(-1)) was largely controlled by the flood events (83% of the solid discharge occurred in less than 12% of the time), and that the precision oil the total output flux depends strongly on the precise monitoring of SPM variations during the floods. The chemical composition of water and SPM are characterized by the predominance of Ca(2+) due to the abundance of carbonate rocks in the Rhone watershed. Chemical budgets have been calculated to derive the contributions of atmospheric deposition, carbonate, silicate and evaporite weathering, and anthropogenic inputs. The chemical weathering rate of carbonates is estimated to be 89 +/- 5 t km(-2) yr(-1) compared to 14.4 +/- 3 t km(-2) yr(-1) from silicates. By contrast, the physical erosion rate of silicates is about 51 t km(-2) yr(-1) against 19 t km(-2) yr(-1) for carbonates. The steady-state model of Gaillardet et al. (1995) has been applied to the chemical composition of dissolved and solid products. The results show that the Rhone River currently exports much less material than produced at steady-state by weathering in its watershed. The sediment flux inferred from the steady-state calculation (21-56 x 10(6) t yr(-1)) is on the same order as that estimated in literature for the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. This imbalance may suggest that the Rhone is under a transient erosion regime following climate change (i.e. significant decrease of the flooding frequency since the beginning of the 19th century). On the other hand, the imbalance may also be due to the trapping of alluvion by the numerous dams on the river and its tributaries. Our data corroborate with previous Studies that suggest a strong coupling between chemical and physical erosion fluxes, during the hydrological seasonal cycle of the Rhone River. The correlation between physical and chemical transport rates is, however, clearly different from that reported for global annual averages in large world rivers
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P. Ollivier, Bruno Hamelin, Olivier Radakovitch. Seasonal variations of physical and chemical erosion: A three-year survey of the Rhone River (France). Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Elsevier, 2010, 74 (3), pp.907-927. ⟨10.1016/j.gca.2009.10.037⟩. ⟨hal-01061559⟩



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