Weathering in a regolith on the Werenskioldbreen Glacier forefield (SW Spitsbergen). 2. Speciation of Fe, Mn, Pb, Cu and Zn in the chronosequence

Grzegorz Rzepa, Maciej Manecki, Grzegorz Jakubski, Monika Kwaśniak-Kominek, Jerzy Czerny, Dorota Górniak


The evolution of chemical speciation of Fe, Mn, Pb, Cu, and Zn was investigated in the chronosequence of young sediments, exposed by a currently retreating Arctic glacier on Spitsbergen. Werenskioldbreen is a 27 km2 subpolar, land-terminated, polythermal glacier in recession, located near the SW coast of West Spitsbergen. Three samples of structureless till were collected at locations exposed for 5, 45 and 70 years. Four grain-size fractions were separated: > 63, 20–63, 2–20, and < 2 μm. Speciation of Fe, Mn, Pb, Cu, and Zn was determined using a 6-step sequential chemical extraction method: 1) 1 M sodium acetate, 2) 1 M hydroxylamine hydrochloride in acetic acid, 3) sodium dithionite in buffer, 4) acid ammonium oxalate, 5) boiling HCl, 6) residuum. The weathering in the proglacial area of the retreating glacier is very fast. The geochemical fates of the metals in question correlate with each other, reflecting a) the geochemical similarities between them, b) the similarities of their primary mineral sources, c) the significant role of incongruent dissolution. The weathering processes dominating the system are redox reactions and incongruent dissolution, followed by precipitation of secondary phases and partial sorption of aqueous species. As a result, the elements released from weathering minerals are only partially transported away from the system. The remaining part transforms by weathering from the coarse-grained fraction (dominated by fragments of primary minerals) into the fine-grained fraction (in the form of secondary, authigenic minerals or as species sorbed onto a mineral skeleton). This is very strongly pronounced within the chronosequence: the content of each of the metals studied correlates identically with the grain size, despite the differences in their chemical character and affinities. The microscope study presented herein indicates that the role of incongruent dissolution previously was underestimated. Also, the formation of coatings of secondary phases on primary mineral surfaces was observed. All these rapid weathering processes affect the mineral speciation of initial soils as well as the composition of mineral suspensions transported away by rivers to the nearby ocean.

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