Weathering processes and the composition of inorganic material transported through the Orinoco River system, Venezuela and Colombia
The composition of river-borne material in the Orinoco River system is related primarily to erosion regime, which in turn is related to tectonic setting; especially notable is the contrast between material derived from tectonically active mountain belts and that from stable cratonic regions. For a particular morpho-tectonic region, the compositional suites of suspended sediment, bed material, overbank deposits, and dissolved phases are fairly uniform and are typically distinct from those of other regions. For each region, a consistent set of chemical weathering reactions can be formulated to explain the composition of dissolved and solid loads. In developing these formulations, erosion on slopes and storage of solids in soils and alluvial sediments are important considerations. Compositionally very-mature sediment is derived from areas of thick soils where erosion is transport limited and from areas where sediments are stored for extended periods of time in alluvial deposits. Compositionally immature sediments are derived from tectonically active mountain belts where erosion is weathering limited. Weathering-limited erosion also is important in the elevated parts of the Guayana Shield within areas of steep topography. Compared to the mountain belts, sediments derived from elevated parts of the Shield are more mature. A greater degree of chemical weathering seems to be needed to erode the rock types typical of the Shield. The major-element chemistry and mineral compositions of sediment delivered by the Orinoco River to the ocean are controlled by rivers that have their headwaters in mountain belts and cross the Llanos, a region of alluvial plains within the foreland basin. The composition of sediments in rivers that drain the Shield seems to be established primarily at the site of soil formation, whereas for rivers that drain the mountain belts, additional weathering occurs during episodes of storage on alluvial plains as sediments are transported across the Llanos to the main stem of the Orinoco. After mixing into the main stem, there seems to be little subsequent alteration of sediment.