Styles and rates of long-term denudation in carbonate terrains under a Mediterranean to hyper-arid climatic gradient

U. Ryb*, A. Matmon, Y. Erel, I. Haviv, L. Benedetti, A. J. Hidy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Carbonate minerals, unlike silicates, have the potential to dissolve almost completely and with high efficiency. Thus, in carbonate terrains denudation rate and style (the governing process of denudation, mechanical or chemical) should be more sensitive to climatic forcing. Using 36Cl measurements in 39 carbonate bedrock and sediment samples, we calculate long-term denudation rates across a sharp climatic gradient from Mediterranean to hyper-arid conditions. Our samples were collected along the Arugot watershed, which drains the eastern flank of the Judea Range (central Israel) to the Dead Sea and is characterized by a pronounced rain shadow. Denudation rates of flat-lying bedrock outcrops sampled along interfluves differ by an order of magnitude from ~20 mm ka-1 in the Mediterranean zone to 1-3 mm ka-1 in the hyper-arid zone. These rates are strongly correlated with precipitation, and thus reflect the importance of carbonate mineral dissolution in the overall denudation process. In contrast, denudation rates of steep bedrock surfaces depend on the hillslope gradient, but only in the hyper-arid climate zone, indicating that mechanical processes dominate the overall hillslope denudation within this zone. The dominance of slope-dependent mechanical erosion in the hyper-arid zone is also reflected by an increase in spatially-average denudation rates from 17-19 mm ka-1 in the Mediterranean-semi-arid zones to 21-25 mm ka-1 in the hyper-arid zone. These higher rates are attributed to clast contribution from steep slopes under arid climate. This suggests an increased importance of mechanical processes to the overall denudation in the hyper-arid zone.We demonstrate that the transition between chemically-dominated denudation to mechanically-dominated denudation occurs between 100 and 200 mm of mean annual precipitation. Long-term denudation rates across the Judea Range indicate that between Mediterranean and hyper-arid climates, chemical weathering rates are limited by precipitation. Nevertheless, in more humid climates, chemical weathering rates are apparently limited by the rates of carbonate mineral dissolution. This study demonstrates that carbonate terrains have the capacity to shift between mechanically and chemically dominated denudation in response to changes in precipitation. Similar transitions in response to changes in temperature or the level of tectonic activity have been previously reported. We suggest that the abrupt nature of such transitions can be primarily attributed to the efficiency of carbonate dissolution processes and the competition between surface and subsurface drainage systems in carbonate terrains.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)142-152
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - 5 Nov 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier B.V.


  • Carbonate terrains
  • Chemical weathering
  • Cl
  • Climatic gradient
  • Denudation
  • Erosion


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