Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Climatic effects on rapid chemical and physical denudation rates measured with cosmogenic nuclides in the Ōhau catchment, New Zealand

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posted on 2021-12-09, 07:51 authored by Bellingham, Maia

Understanding how active mountain landscapes contribute to carbon dioxide cycling and influences on long-term climate stability requires measurement of weathering fluxes from these landscapes. The few measured chemical weathering rates in the Southern Alps are an order of magnitude greater than in the rest of the world. Rapid tectonic uplift coupled with extreme orographic precipitation is driving exceptionally fast chemical and physical denudation. These rates suggest that weathering in landscapes such as the Southern Alps could play a significant role in carbon dioxide cycling. However, the relative importance of climate and tectonics driving these fast rates remains poorly understood.   To address this gap, in situ ¹⁰Be derived catchment-averaged denudation rates were measured in the Ōhau catchment, Canterbury, New Zealand. Denudation rates in the Dobson Valley within the Ōhau catchment, varied from 474 – 7,570 m Myr⁻¹, aside from one sub-catchment in the upper Dobson Valley that had a denudation rate of 12,142 m Myr⁻¹. The Dobson and Hopkins Rivers had denudation rates of 1,660 and 4,400 m Myr⁻¹ respectively, in these catchments. Dobson Valley denudation rates show a moderate correlation with mean annual precipitation (R²=0.459). This correlation supports a similar trend identified at local and regional scales, and at high rates of precipitation this may be an important driver of erosion and weathering.   Sampling of four grain sizes (0.125 to > 8 mm) at one site in the Dobson Valley resulted in variability in ¹⁰Be concentrations up to a factor of 2.5, which may be a result of each grain size recording different erosional processes. These observations demonstrate the importance of assessing potential variability and the need to sample consistent grain sizes across catchments.   Chemical depletion fractions measured within soil pits in the upper Dobson Valley indicate chemical weathering contributes 30% of total denudation, and that physical erosion is driving rapid total denudation. Chemical weathering appears to surpass any proposed weathering speed limit and suggests total weathering may not be limited by weathering kinetics. This research adds to the paucity of research in New Zealand, and for the first time presents ¹⁰Be derived denudation rates from the eastern Southern Alps, with estimates of the long-term weathering flux. High weathering fluxes in the Southern Alps uphold the hypothesis that mountain landscapes play an important role in carbon dioxide cycling and long-term climate stability.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Physical Geography

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Lukens, Claire; Norton, Kevin