Biogeochemical weathering of soil apatite grains in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica

TitleBiogeochemical weathering of soil apatite grains in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsHeindel, RC, W. Lyons, B, Welch, S, Spickard, AM, Virginia, RA
Date Published01/2018

The biogeochemical weathering of the mineral apatite links the lithosphere to the biosphere by releasing the essential nutrient phosphorus (P) into the soil ecosystem. In Taylor Valley, Antarctica, faster rates of apatite weathering may be responsible for the higher concentrations of bioavailable soil P that exist in the Fryxell Basin as compared to the Bonney Basin. In this study, we use scanning electron microscopy to quantify the morphology and surface etching of individual apatite grains to determine whether the degree of apatite weathering differs between the Fryxell and Bonney Basins as well as saturated and dry soil sediments. We show that apatite grains from the Fryxell Basin are rounder, have fewer intact crystal faces, and are more chemically etched than grains from the Bonney Basin. In the Bonney Basin, apatite grains from dry soils show few signs of chemical dissolution, suggesting that soil moisture is a stronger control on the rate of apatite weathering in the Bonney Basin than in the Fryxell Basin. In addition, etch-pit morphologies in the Bonney Basin are more clearly controlled by the hexagonal crystal structure of apatite, while in the Fryxell Basin, etch pits demonstrate a wide range of morphologies without clear crystallographic control. Higher rates of apatite weathering in the Fryxell Basin may be due to the legacy of the physical abrasion of apatite grains during transport by a warm-based ice sheet, as well as the higher levels of precipitation and soil moisture closer to the coast. Our grain-scale approach provides a new perspective on P cycling in the McMurdo Dry Valleys and has implications for apatite weathering and P dynamics in the early stages of soil development.

Short TitleGeoderma