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Influence of CO₂ dynamics on the longitudinal variation of incision rates in soluble bedrock channels: Feedback mechanisms

Covington, Matthew D., Prelovšek, Mitja, Gabrovšek, Franci
Geomorphology 2013 v.186 pp. 85-95
bedrock, carbon dioxide, hydrochemistry, limestone, mathematical models, streams
We use measurements of dissolution rates of limestone tablets placed along a cave stream to estimate rates of modern incision. Dissolution rates within the stream display a systematic decrease with downstream distance. We discuss a variety of mechanisms that could be responsible for the longitudinal decrease in dissolution rates and develop simple mathematical models for each. The dissolutional length scales that arise from each model allow a first-order estimate of the plausibility of each mechanism and motivate further field studies to test each possibility. Water chemistry and other field data suggest that a decrease in the concentration of CO₂ along the cave stream is responsible for the observed decrease in dissolution rates. We propose two potential mechanisms that could trigger this reduction in dissolved CO₂ and discuss the plausibility of each mechanism in light of the field data collected. Either of these mechanisms introduces a feedback loop whereby the stream profile of a channel in soluble bedrock indirectly influences CO₂ concentrations in the water, via either microbial or hydraulic processes. The CO₂ concentration in turn effects the incision rates and therefore the future stream profile. This study illustrates the importance of CO₂ dynamics in determining incision rates in a soluble channel and points to further modeling and field work that are needed in order to enable the development of realistic stream incision models in soluble strata.