On discrimination between carbonate and silicate inputs to Himalayan rivers

Bickle, Mike J.; Tipper, Ed; Galy, Albert; Chapman, Hazel and Harris, Nigel (2015). On discrimination between carbonate and silicate inputs to Himalayan rivers. American Journal of Science, 315(2) pp. 120–166.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2475/02.2015.02


We review new and published analyses of river waters, bedloads and their constituent minerals from the Dhauli Ganga and Alaknanda, headwaters of the Ganges in Garhwal, and the Marsyandi in Nepal and their tributaries. These data are used to discriminate between the inputs of major cations and Sr from silicate and carbonate sources. Methods of estimating the proportion of the carbonate and silicate inputs to river waters using mixing arrays in Sr-Ca-Mg-Na-K 87Sr/86Sr space are shown to suffer from systematic correlations between the magnitude of the precipitation of secondary calcite and the fraction of the silicate component. This results in factor-of two overestimates of the fractions of silicate-derived Ca, Mg and Sr. To correct for this the magnitude of secondary calcite precipitated and relative fractions of silicate and carbonate-derived cations are instead calculated by modeling the displacement of water compositions from the compositions of the carbonate and silicate components of the bedload in subsets of Sr-Ca-Mg-Na-K 87Sr/86Sr space. The compositions of the carbonate and silicate end-members in the bedload are determined by sequential leaching. The results of this modeling are compared with modeling of the modal mineral inputs to waters where mineral compositions are derived from electronmicroprobe analyses of the minerals in the bedload. In the upper Marsyandi catchment, which drains low-grade Tethyan Sedimentary Series formations, a set of mainstem samples collected over a two-year period define tight correlations in Sr-Ca-Mg-Na-K- 87Sr/86Sr space. Modeling of the magnitude of secondary carbonate precipitation and fractions of silicate-derived Ca, Mg and Sr in Sr-Ca-Mg 87Sr/86Sr space gives selfconsistent results that are compatible with both the calculations of mineral modes and published Mg-isotopic compositions, if the ratio of chlorite to biotite weathering is high or if there is another silicate source of Mg. These calculations imply that between 12 and 31 percent of the Sr and 44 and 72 percent of the Mg is derived from silicate minerals where the range reflects the seasonal change in the ratio of silicate-derived to carbonate-derived cations. Modeling in Sr-Ca-Na and/or K space is inconsistent with the Sr-isotopic and Mg-isotopic constraints and we conclude that in this catchment dissolution of Na and K are incongruent relative to Sr-Ca-Mg. Potassium is preferentially retained in micas whereas the controls on Na are unclear. Modeling of the catchments underlain by High Himalayan Crystalline and Lesser Himalayan Series in Garhwal is complicated by the presence of dolomite as well as calcite in the carbonate and the results imply that dolomite dissolves faster in the acetic acid leaches than in nature. Up to 60 percent of the Sr in the catchment on High Himalayan Crystalline Series and 20 to 30 percent of Sr in the catchments on Lesser Himalayan Series are estimated to be derived from silicates. However it should be noted that the element budgets are not all self-consistent and the use of bedrock-element ratios to model the sources of chemical inputs to river waters remains subject to uncertainties.

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