Mineralogical, magnetic and geochemical data constrain the pathways and extent of weathering of mineralized sedimentary rocks

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
By: , and 



The oxidative weathering of sulfidic rock can profoundly impact watersheds through the resulting export of acidity and metals. Weathering leaves a record of mineral transformation, particularly involving minor redox-sensitive phases, that can inform the development of conceptual and quantitative models. In sulfidic sedimentary rocks, however, variations in depositional history, diagenesis and mineralization can change or overprint the distributions of these trace minerals, complicating the interpretation of weathering signatures. Here we show that a combination of bulk mineralogical and geochemical techniques, micrometer-resolution X-ray fluorescence microprobe analysis and rock magnetic measurements, applied to drill core samples and single weathered fractures, can provide data that enable the development of a geochemically consistent weathering model.

This work focused on one watershed in the Upper Colorado River Basin sitting within the Mesaverde Formation, a sedimentary sandstone bedrock with disseminated sulfide minerals, including pyrite and sphalerite, that were introduced during diagenesis and subsequent magmatic-hydrothermal mineralization. Combined analytical methods revealed the pathways of iron (Fe), carbonate and silicate mineral weathering and showed how pH controls element retention or release from the actively weathering fractured sandstone. Drill core logging, whole rock X-ray diffraction, and geochemical measurements document the progression from unweathered rock at depth to weathered rock at the surface. X-ray microprobe analyses of a 1-cm size weathering profile along a fracture surface are consistent with the mobilization of Fe(II) and Fe(III) into acidic pore water from the dissolution of primary pyrite, Fe-sphalerite, chlorite, and minor siderite and pyrrhotite. These reactions are followed by the precipitation of secondary minerals such as of goethite and jarosite, a Fe-(oxyhydr)oxide and hydrous Fe(III) sulfate, respectively. Microscale analyses also helped explain the weathering reactions responsible for the mineralogical transformations observed in the top and most weathered section of the drill core. For example, dissolution of feldspar and chlorite neutralizes the acidity generated by Fe and sulfide mineral oxidation, oversaturating the solution in both Fe-oxides. The combination of X-ray spectromicroscopy and magnetic measurements show that the Fe(III) product is goethite, mainly present either as a coatings on fracture surfaces in the actively weathering region of the core or more homogeneously contained within the unconsolidated regolith at the top of the core. Low-temperature magnetic data reveal the presence of ferromagnetic Fe-sulfide pyrrhotite that, although it occurs at trace concentrations, could provide a qualitative proxy for unweathered sulfide minerals because the loss of pyrrhotite is associated with the onset of oxidative weathering. Pyrrhotite loss and goethite formation are detectable through room-temperature magnetic coercivity changes, suggesting that rock magnetic measurements can determine weathering intensity in rock samples at many scales. This work contributes evidence that the weathering of sulfidic sedimentary rocks follows a geochemical pattern in which the abundance of sulfide minerals controls the generation of acidity and dissolved elements, and the pH-dependent mobility of these elements controls their export to the ground- and surface-water.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Mineralogical, magnetic and geochemical data constrain the pathways and extent of weathering of mineralized sedimentary rocks
Series title Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
DOI 10.1016/j.gca.2022.11.005
Volume 343
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center, Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center
Description 16 p.
First page 180
Last page 195
Country United States
State Colorado
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