Cosmogenic nuclides have been widely used to quantify erosion in mountain ranges around the world, creating a global database of erosion rates from climatically and lithologically diverse sites, and providing vital clues about how mountain landscape evolution is coupled to Earth’s carbon cycle and thus global climate change over geologic timescales. Despite this wealth of data, few studies have observed the widely expected strong control of erosion rates by climatic factors such as precipitation and temperature. Here we show that cosmogenic nuclide studies are prone to biases due to dust deposition and chemical erosion, which together can obscure strong relationships between climate and erosion rates. Erosion rates of sites exposed to intense chemical weathering can be underestimated by two-fold due to chemical enrichment of the cosmogenic target mineral quartz — a result of its high chemical erosion resistance, which increases its residence time and thus reduces its apparent erosion rate compared to other soil minerals. Meanwhile, erosion rates of sites with rapid dust deposition can be overestimated by more than ten-fold, due to dust's contributions to soil mass and target mineral abundance. Compilations of dust fluxes and cosmogenic nuclide data suggest that steep climatic trends in erosion rates, ranging from slow erosion rates in dry settings to twenty-fold faster erosion rates in wet settings, could be largely masked by the combined effects of dust deposition and chemical erosion. We argue that these effects need to be quantified in many cosmogenic nuclide studies of erosion rates. Doing so will require dust input rates; soil depth and density; quartz-enrichment ratios in both saprolite relative to bedrock and soil relative to saprolite; and quartz concentrations in deposited dust. Failure to quantify these crucial parameters can lead to misinterpretation of the strength — and even the sign — of feedbacks between climate and erosion rates in mountain landscapes.
Riebe, C. S.; Arvin, L.; Ferrier, K.; Aciego S. (2017): Dust and chemical erosion biases in cosmogenic nuclide studies: A factor-of-ten problem that could mask strong climatic effects on landscape evolution. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2017. Abstract EP32C-08..