Mineral weathering and bedrock weakening: Modeling microscale bedrock damage under biotite weathering
Ferrier, Ken L.
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Bedrock weakening is of wide interest because it influences landscape evolution, chemical weathering, and subsurface hydrology. A longstanding hypothesis states that bedrock weakening is driven by chemical weathering of minerals like biotite, which expand as they weather and create stresses sufficient to fracture rock. Here we build on recent advances in rock damage mechanics to develop a model for the influence of multi-mineral chemical weathering on bedrock damage, which is defined as the reduction in bedrock stiffness. We use biotite chemical weathering as an example application of this model to explore how the abundance, aspect ratio, and orientation affect the time-dependent evolution of bedrock damage during biotite chemical weathering. Our simulations suggest that biotite abundance and aspect ratio have a profound effect on the evolution of bedrock damage during biotite chemical weathering. These characteristics exert particularly strong influences on the timing of the onset of damage, which occurs earlier under higher biotite abundances and smaller biotite aspect ratios. Biotite orientation, by contrast, exerts a relatively weak influence on damage. Our simulations further show that damage development is strongly influenced by the boundary conditions, with damage initiating earlier under laterally confined boundaries than under unconfined boundaries. These simulations suggest that relatively minor differences in biotite populations can drive significant differences in the progression of rock weakening. This highlights the need for observations of biotite abundance, aspect ratio, and orientation at the mineral and field scales, and motivates efforts to upscale this microscale model to investigate the evolution of the macroscale fracture network.