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Mecchia M.,La Venta Geographic Explorations Association | Sauro F.,La Venta Geographic Explorations Association | Sauro F.,University of Bologna | Piccini L.,La Venta Geographic Explorations Association | And 7 more authors.
Journal of Hydrology | Year: 2014

In situ measurements of discharge, pH, electric conductivity (EC), temperature, and SiO2 content have been carried out during five expeditions in the last 20years on the summit plateaus, inside caves and along the rivers of the surrounding lowlands of three tepui massifs in Venezuela (Auyan, Roraima, and Chimanta). Additionally, detailed chemical analyses were performed on waters sampled in a newly discovered extensive quartz-sandstone cave system on the Auyan Tepui. Rock samples of the quartz-sandstone bedrock from different locations have been analysed to obtain their chemical composition with a wavelength dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. These data show that the majority of silica present in surface and subsurface water comes from dissolution of quartz and only in minor amount from hydrolysis of other silicate minerals. Probably the presence of a hardened crust of iron hydroxides limits the dissolution of silica on the top surface of tepuis. Dissolution in the subsurface, instead, is more significant and causes, in the long term, the "arenisation" of the quartz-sandstone and its subsequent removal by mechanical erosion. On the other hand, waters flowing on the arkosic rock outcropping on the lowland below the tepuis obtain their high dissolved silica content mainly from hydrolysis of silicates. The morphological evolution of these table mountains appears thus to be controlled mainly by the underground weathering of the quartz-sandstone, with the opening of deep fractures (grietas) and the collapse of large underground horizontal cave systems. Scarp retreat, instead, seems to be related to the higher weathering rate of the more arkosic formations underlying the quartz-sandstones. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.

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