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Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155 168

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Petrography and chemistry of the bed sediments of the Red River in


China and Vietnam: Provenance and chemical weathering
Joniell Borges a , Youngsook Huh a,b,
b

a
Department of Geological Sciences, Northwestern University, 1850 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208-2150, USA
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Seoul National University, San 56-1, Sillim 9-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul 151-747, Korea

Received 18 January 2006; received in revised form 10 May 2006; accepted 22 May 2006

Abstract
The Red (Hong) River straddles southwestern China and northern Vietnam and drains the eastern Indo-Asian collision zone. We
collected bed sediments from its tributaries and main channel and report the petrographic point counts of framework grains and
major oxide compositions as well as organic and inorganic carbon contents. The Q:F:Rf ratios and Q:F:(LLc) ratios of the bedload indicate quartz-poor, mineralogically immature sediments of recycled orogen provenance. The weathering indices based on
major oxides the chemical index of alteration (CIA) and the weathering index of Parker are also consistent with the recycled
sedimentary nature of the bed sediments. Using geographic information system (GIS) we calculated for each sample basin such
parameters as temperature, precipitation, potential evapotranspiration, runoff, basin length, area, relief, and areal exposure of
igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. Statistically meaningful correlations are obtained between the two weathering
indices, between CIA and sedimentary to metamorphic rock fragments ratio, S / (S + M), and between CIA and sedimentary rock
cover, but otherwise correlations are poor. The bed sediments preserve signatures of their provenance, but the effect of weathering
is not clearly seen. Subtle differences in the bed sediments are observed between the Red and the Himalayan rivers (Indus, Ganges,
and Brahmaputra) as well as between sub-basins within the Red River system and are attributed mainly to differences in lithology.
2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Tibet; Da; Lo; Climate; GIS; Chemical index of alteration

1. Introduction
The collision of India and Asia and the resulting buildup of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau (HTP) are the
most significant tectonic events in the Cenozoic. The
southern periphery of the HTP is an especially important
source of terrigenous sediments on Earth today as
evidenced by the large suspended sediment load carried
Corresponding author. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences,
Seoul National University, San 56-1, Sillim 9-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul
151-747, Korea. Tel.: +82 2 880 9167; fax: +82 2 871 3269.
E-mail address: yhuh@snu.ac.kr (Y. Huh).
0037-0738/$ - see front matter 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.sedgeo.2006.05.029

by the GangesBrahmaputra (Milliman and Meade,


1983). The Bengal and Indus fans preserve records of
the evolution of this system, and one can make links to
uplift rates and strength of the Asian monsoon system
using isotopic and sedimentologic data (France-Lanord
et al., 1993; Clift et al., 2004). The eastern periphery of the
HTP is also an important source of terrigenous sediments
supplying the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween,
Irrawaddy, and Red rivers. Accumulation records of
material delivered by these rivers will enable one to trace
the evolution of the Tibetan Plateau without the
intervening Himalayas (Clift et al., 2004). Moreover,
river capture events that accompanied the uplift of the

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J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

HTP could be dated (Clark et al., 2004). The Red River


lies at the heart of this problem, as these large rivers once
fed the proto-Red River draining into the Gulf of Tonkin
(Clark et al., 2004). The configuration has since changed
such that at present the Yangtze flows into the East China
Sea, the Mekong and Salween to the South China Sea,
while the Red River has been truncated into a short river.
In order to interpret records of past Red River outflow,
it is necessary to understand the present day weathering
provenance (combination of source rock composition,
tectonics, climate and relief) (Pettijohn et al., 1987,
p. 297) of its sediments. As an effort toward this goal, we
studied the petrography and chemistry of bed sediments
of the Red River and the relationship to climate, relief, and
lithology. We specifically address the effects of source
rocks and evaluate the relative merit of various indicators
of chemical alteration. To our knowledge, this is one of
the first studies that combine bed-load petrography and
chemistry with GIS for the Red River system.
2. Geological and hydrographical setting
The Red River is relatively small in comparison to
the major river systems originating in the HTP, e.g. the
Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Brahmaputra,
Ganges, and Indus. It drains a 0.12 106 km2 zone that
extends from southwestern China to the Gulf of Tonkin
(Meybeck and Ragu, 1997)(Fig. 1). With its 123 km3/y of
water discharge, it transports 18 106 t/y of dissolved and
130 106 t/y of suspended sediment load to the Gulf of
Tonkin (Meybeck and Ragu, 1997). The bed-load flux is
difficult to determine but is often assumed to be 10% or
less of the total sediment load (Meade, 1988).
The climate is tropical to sub-tropical with an average
precipitation of 1500 mm/y (Meybeck and Ragu,
1997). Most of the water and sediment delivery occurs
during the wet season (May to September) when the water
discharge above the delta reaches 14,000 m3/s and air
temperatures are above 20 C (Fig. 2). During the dry
season, water discharge is 1200 m3/s, and temperatures
are in the low teens.
The Red River system consists of the main channel
and the two main tributariesthe Da on the right bank
draining the Indochina block and the Lo on the left bank
draining the Yangzi Paraplatform (Fig. 1). The three
channels merge approximately 50 km northwest of
Hanoi. The Red River basin is centered around a major
Cenozoic shear zone, the Ailao ShanRed River shear
zone (RRSZ), where the Indochina block has extruded
from the Tibetan Plateau (Tapponnier et al., 2001). The
geological history that emerges from past geomorphologic and structural studies is that the Ailao Shan shear

zone was actively unroofing till as late as 10 Ma and


underwent a period of deep weathering and erosion, until
in the Pliocene uplift occurred as part of the larger eastern
margin of the Tibetan Plateau and the river incised into
the elevated low-relief landscape in response (Schoenbohm et al., 2004). The total river incision over the two
phases is estimated to be 1400 m (Schoenbohm et al.,
2004).
The Red main channel runs along the RRSZ, which
extends NWSE, from the Hengduan Mountains in
southwestern China to the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam
(Tapponnier et al., 1990; Leloup et al., 1995). The RRSZ
is exposed as a belt of metamorphic massifs of highgrade gneisses to low-grade schists (Leloup et al., 2001):
from the southeast, the Day Nui Con Voi, Ailao Shan,
Diancang Shan, and the Xuelong Shan off the map to the
northwest (Fig. 1a). The headwaters of the main channel
drains the Chuxiong Basin composed of thick Upper
Triassic to Lower Cenozoic sequences of coal-bearing
continental clastic rocks (Leloup et al., 1995; Burchfiel
and Wang, 2003)(Fig. 1). The Da drains the Yangbi and
Simao basins with Paleozoic and Mesozoic cover of
continental red beds and, close to the RRSZ, PermoCarboniferous limestones (Leloup et al., 1995). Felsic
and ultramafic rocks are limited to a few scattered
exposures near the RRSZ. The Lo drains the South China
Fold Belt, which is characterized by a thick marine
succession of Triassic limestone and fine-grained clastic
rocks (Burchfiel and Wang, 2003) (Fig. 1). Between the
Lo main channel and the Chay tributary, Proterozoic to
Lower Paleozoic low-grade metamorphic and sedimentary rocks are exposed along with small granitoid
intrusions (Wysocka and Swierczewska, 2003) (Fig. 1).
In summary, the three main tributaries of the Red River
drainage system have considerable differences in their
lithologies. The Red main channel is dominated by metamorphic rocks, except in the upper reaches with Mesozoic
sedimentary deposits. The Da drainage is composed of
sedimentary rocks of Mesozoic and Paleozoic age with
minor felsic intrusions. The Lo drainage has low-grade
metamorphic rocks and Proterozoic to Paleozoic sedimentary rocks with some granitoid intrusions.
3. Materials and methods
We retrieved bed sediment samples from river banks
under flowing water during two expeditions in wet
(AugustSeptember of 2001) and dry (December
January of 20022003) seasons. The samples were airdried and sieved to remove the gravel and plant debris
(>500 m). About 1.5 g of <500 m fraction was wet
sieved to separate the sand size fraction (63500 m)

J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

157

Fig. 1. (a) Simplified geologic map of the Red River drainage basin modified from Wakita et al. (2004). RRSZ: Red River Ailao Shan Shear Zone.
(b) Sample location map showing major tributaries of the Red River system.

158

J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

Fig. 2. Average monthly precipitation, potential evapotranspiration, and temperature in the drainage basins of the Red River main channel (MC) and
its two largest tributaries, the Da and Lo.

Table 1
Petrography of bed sediments (63500 m) of the Red River
River Name

Date
mm/dd/
yy

63
263 m GazziDickinson method
500 m (wt.%)
L
Tot
(wt.%)
Q F Lv Lc Lch Ls Lm

% in sample

Rf

Al Op Hm Q

% in sample
Al Op Hm

09/07/01
01/07/03
09/07/01
01/07/03
12/29/02
12/29/02
08/18/01
12/28/02

66.6
59.6
89.9
65.6
97.6
96.3
96.9
94.7

31.6
37.4
9.0
33.9
0.9
1.1
2.1
1.7

64
67
65
62
69
64
70
67

0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0

0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0

2
1
4
2
2
0
2
1

21
8
16
18
9
6
7
15

13
17
14
16
19
25
18
15

100
100
100
100
100
100
100
100

4
5
2
6
2
8
6
5

2
2
4
7
1
3
2
5

2
1
3
8
5
10
5
4

57
51
57
53
57
40
57
51

0
2
0
2
1
6
1
1

0
1
0
0
1
1
0
0

0
2
0
0
0
3
0
1

2
1
3
0
4
1
3
1

27
22
20
29
23
8
17
19

13
17
20
15
12
35
19
25

100 8
100 4
100 5
100 8
100 6
100 16
100 7
100 8

2
2
3
8
2
6
2
2

0
0
2
4
2
8
1
3

Red Main Channel


Upper Lishe Jiang, LB
RD229
Red @ Yuan Jiang
RD119
Huanien He
RD215
Red @ Cua Khao, nr. Lao Cai RD205
Namthe @ Lao Cai
RD206
Red @ Yen Bai
RD208
Red @ Phu Tho
RD214

01/12/03
09/05/01
01/06/03
12/30/02
12/31/02
12/31/02
01/02/03

94.4
78.4
82.1
81.2
78.9
99.5
95.5

2.6
19.2
13.1
16.5
17.4
0.3
3.5

78 1 0
63 3 0
73 0 0
62 11 0
54 1 0
68 13 0
65 3 0

2
3
0
1
0
2
0

4
1
1
0
0
1
0

12
18
21
9
5
5
11

4
12
4
16
39
11
20

100
100
100
100
100
100
100

1
5
2
2
8
1
7

1
3
1
8
6
3
6

1
5
1
13
5
7
11

58 1 1
53 1 0
49 4 3
53 13 2
35 2 1
52 14 2
63 2 2

2
1
1
0
0
2
0

4
8
0
1
1
4
1

7
0
3
1
1
2
1

20
23
34
16
19
9
14

7
13
6
15
42
14
16

100 6 2
100 4 3
100 1 0
100 11 11
100 11 5
100 5 3
100 11 6

2
4
1
12
3
4
10

Lo
Lo @ Ha Jiang
Gam @ Chiem Hoa
Chay @ Bao Yen
Chay @ Doan Hung, bl. res.
Lo @ Doan Hung, bl. Chay

RD111
RD210
RD207
RD209
RD213

08/24/01
01/01/02
12/31/02
01/01/03
01/02/03

96.7
95.2
80.8
97.9
69.8

2.2
4.6
14.9
0.04
27.3

70 11 0
64 2 0
57 10 0
77 16 0
55 6 0

0
0
0
0
0

1
4
0
0
3

5 14
8 22
2 30
2 4
29 7

100
100
100
100
100

7
4
3
1
2

2
3
5
1
1

18
8
11
4
3

65 12 4
59 3 2
55 11 4
70 17 7
51 7 2

0
0
0
0
0

0
1
1
0
0

1
5
1
0
2

1 16 100 10 3
9 22 100 8 4
5 23 100 8 12
1 6 100 2 1
36 2 100 4 3

15
6
9
4
2

Bank Sediment
Chay @ Doan Hung, bl. res.

RD209Bk 01/01/03 100

88

100 2

29

79

8 0

0
2
0
1
2
5
3
2

Tot

Pl V Ca Ch S

RD121
RD218
RD120
RD217
RD203
RD204
RD103
RD202

1
6
1
2
1
4
3
1

Standard method

5 4

7 100

J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

Da
Babian Jiang
Babian Jiang
Amo Jiang
Amo Jiang
Da @ Lai Chau
Namna @ Lai Chau
Da @ Muong La, ab. res.
Da @ Muong La, ab. res.

Sample
ID

32

Res = reservoir; ab. = above; bl. = below; nr. = near; LB = left bank.The sample ID in bold indicates the furthest downstream sample for the three tributary systems.
Q = total quartz; F = total feldspar; L = Lv + Lc + Lch + Ls + Lm; Lv = volcanic; Lc = total carbonate grains; Lch = chert; Ls = sedimentary; Lm = metamorphic.
Al = alterites; Op = opaque minerals; Hm = heavy minerals; Rf = total rock fragments; Pl = plutonic; V = volcanic; Ca = carbonate; Ch = chert; S = sedimentary; M = metamorphic.

159

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J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

from the finer silt and clay size fractions. The <63 m size
fraction was sequentially filtered with a pre-weighed
Whatman filter paper and 2 m Millipore filter paper
to determine the silt (263 m) content. The recovered
sand- and silt-size fractions together amounted to >96 wt.%
of the total initial sample, and the clay fraction was negligible (Table 1). Thin sections were prepared from the
sand-size fraction and subjected to both standard and
GazziDickinson petrographic analyses (Potter et al.,
2001; Garzanti et al., 2005), counting 200 framework
grains per sample (Table 1). Aliquots of the <500 m bulk
samples were ground using agate mortar and pestle and
analyzed for chemical composition after lithium borate
fusion at XRAL laboratories in Ontario, Canada. The 10
traditional major element oxides (Si, Al, Fe, Mn, Mg, Ca,
Na, K, Ti, P) were analyzed by ICP-AES (Table 2).
Aliquots of the <500 m ground sample were used to
obtain inorganic carbon (IC) and total carbon (TC)

concentrations by standard coulometric techniques (Huffman, 1977). We calculated the organic carbon (OC) content
by difference.
For Geographic Information System (GIS)-based
analyses, we calculated climatic, hydrologic, geomorphologic, and geologic parameters for individual drainage
basins for each of our samples using the Spatial Analyst
extension of ArcGIS (Table 3). The climatic parameters
were calculated for the months that the samples were
collected. Data for air temperature, precipitation, and
potential evapotranspiration have a spatial resolution of
30 arc sec (Leemans and Cramer, 1991). Runoff data set
was acquired from the UNEP/GRDC Composite Runoff
Fields v 1.0, which is the interpolated runoff at 30-minuteresolution from measurements at hydrological stations
(Fekete et al., 2002). Basin length spans the distance
from the mouth of the river to the furthest point on the
basin perimeter, determined using the Measure tool in

Table 2
Major oxide and carbon content (in weight %) of the bulk (<500 m) bed sediments and the weathering indices
Sample ID

SiO2

Al2O3

Fe2O3

MnO

MgO

CaO

Na2O

K2 O

TiO2

P2O5

LOI

SUM

IC

OC

CIAa

WIP b

Da
RD121
RD218
RD120
RD217
RD203
RD204
RD103
RD202

80.60
79.20
83.94
71.24
81.92
69.83
85.95
80.43

7.70
7.26
6.59
10.37
6.40
10.67
6.74
7.35

3.09
2.97
4.45
4.54
2.92
5.52
3.51
4.23

0.05
0.06
0.06
0.08
0.04
0.09
0.05
0.06

0.81
0.81
1.66
1.88
0.84
1.79
1.01
0.99

0.61
0.95
0.95
1.18
0.55
1.36
0.74
0.71

0.48
0.31
0.41
0.64
0.46
0.87
0.62
0.60

1.42
1.38
1.41
1.89
1.38
3.04
1.81
1.82

0.47
0.55
0.66
0.64
0.37
0.87
0.58
0.67

0.07
0.07
0.07
0.09
0.06
0.11
0.08
0.07

3.20
3.60
3.60
5.45
2.10
3.10
2.75
1.89

98.5
97.2
103.8
98.0
97.0
97.3
103.8
98.8

0.12
0.20
0.16
0.45
0.11
0.24
0.07
0.13

0.17
0.40
0.14
0.23
0.04
<0.01
0.12
<0.01

76
77
72
77
73
67
65
70

19
17
21
27
18
39
25
24

Red Main Channel


RD229
83.45
RD119
76.95
RD215
74.90
RD205
65.85
RD206
65.97
RD208
76.38
RD214
67.82

5.24
7.56
9.21
10.45
11.53
8.91
11.26

2.63
4.72
4.16
6.93
5.24
3.45
4.78

0.04
0.10
0.38
0.11
0.10
0.06
0.07

0.86
1.69
0.68
1.87
1.62
1.39
1.95

2.53
3.20
1.20
3.59
2.52
2.47
2.41

0.11
0.91
0.91
1.32
0.43
1.34
1.30

0.99
1.80
2.55
2.33
2.63
2.60
2.84

0.52
0.72
0.67
0.71
0.83
0.47
0.65

0.07
0.12
0.08
0.10
0.20
0.08
0.10

3.90
5.00
3.23
4.11
6.99
2.50
4.26

100.3
102.8
98.0
97.4
98.1
99.7
97.4

0.53
0.82
0.21
0.62
0.52
0.49
0.43

0.04
0.14
<0.01
0.12
0.87
0.03
0.25

73
69
66
62
75
61
64

13
28
33
40
31
39
43

Lo
RD111
RD210
RD207
RD209
RD213
RD209Bk
UCC c
Ass d

10.85
7.55
9.42
5.14
9.69
9.02
15.40
3.62

4.20
4.64
10.89
0.89
3.77
16.38
5.04
1.13

0.12
0.09
0.25
0.03
0.09
0.53
0.10

1.64
0.95
1.88
0.26
0.92
1.65
2.48
0.45

5.77
1.66
3.00
0.25
1.96
1.17
3.59
1.31

0.96
0.43
0.86
0.69
0.56
0.56
3.27
0.42

2.79
1.72
2.69
2.39
2.42
1.50
2.80
0.91

0.45
0.97
0.77
0.09
0.43
8.41
0.64
0.25

0.10
0.09
0.09
0.02
0.09
0.27
0.15
0.02

2.50
3.25
3.36
0.55
4.67
<0.01

100.5
98.5
97.2
95.9
98.1
96.7

0.22
0.27
0.24
0.02
0.23
0.04

0.10
0.15
0.14
0.05
0.44
<0.01

45
68
55
56
65
71

49
22
41
28
31
24

71.09
77.18
63.95
85.60
73.47
57.22
66.60
91.50

LOI = loss on ignition; IC = inorganic carbon; OC = organic carbon. See Table 1 for sample names.
The sample ID in bold indicates the furthest downstream sample for the three tributary systems.
a
Chemical Index of Alteration. See text for definition.
b
Weathering Index of Parker. See text for definition.
c
Upper continental crust. Rudnick and Gao (2003).
d
Average Phanerozoic sandstone. Condie (1993).

J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

161

Table 3
GIS parameters for the Red River sub-basins
Sample
ID

Climatic

Geomorphologic

CCWIa

Lithologic

Air T

PRC

PET

Runoff

Basin length

Area

Relief

mm/y

mm/y

mm/y

km

103 km2

19.0
8.9
19.8
9.8
10.8
12.1
21.2
11.9

2184
176
2308
198
227
210
2402
218

1041
719
1086
730
739
723
1174
736

1390
322
1256
266
303
247
1551
317

233
233
144
144
515
54
664
664

5.60
5.60
3.66
3.66
26.36
6.54
43.47
43.47

1027
1027
1328
1328
1068
1180
1154
1154

0
0
5
5
5
18
8
8

2
2
4
4
1
5
3
3

98
98
91
91
94
78
89
89

315
73
136
29
146
11
892
182

Red Main Channel


RD229
7.2
RD119
18.3
RD215
9.2
RD205
8.9
RD206
10.7
RD208
10.1
RD214
10.6

114
2062
178
164
185
169
171

685
993
697
695
655
694
696

336
969
77
184
239
223
231

54
313
52
545
25
704
789

0.89
19.87
2.40
33.20
4.01
43.80
47.53

677
857
760
962
962
1015
982

11
1
9
5
2
11
13

0
14
39
23
19
20
19

89
86
53
72
79
70
69

27
354
5
104
6
155
185

Lo
RD111
RD210
RD207
RD209
RD213

1807
195
182
183
189

1172
597
666
676
626

1233
337
375
376
333

193
186
147
234
365

7.13
15.06
4.30
6.30
36.30

653
716
1103
962
788

7
1
7
14
4

2
5
33
39
20

91
95
60
46
76

364
88
50
91
154

Da
RD121
RD218
RD120
RD217
RD203
RD204
RD103
RD202

20.2
11.5
12.2
13.3
11.9

Ig

Met

Sed

% area

m/y

Climatic parameters are for the months sampled. T = air temperature; PRC = precipitation; PET = potential evapotranspiration.
CCWIa = Cumulative Chemical Weathering Index = Runoff Basin length / Relief (Grantham and Velbel, 1988).
The sample ID in bold indicates the furthest downstream sample for the three tributary systems.

ArcGIS. Drainage basin area is modified from Hearn


et al. (2001). Following Summerfield and Hulton (1994),
relief is calculated as maximumminimum elevation
within each 10-minute grid cell using the USGS
GTOPO30 digital elevation model (DEM) with 30second resolution. Percentage of area covered by igneous,
metamorphic and sedimentary rocks is calculated from
Wakita et al. (2004). Statistical analyses were made with
SPSS v.12 and are for 5% significance level or 95%
confidence interval unless otherwise mentioned.
4. Results
For ease of discussion we separated the samples into
three groupsthe Da, Red main channel (MC), and Lo.
The data set includes percent sand and silt size fractions,
point counts of framework grains (Table 1), major oxides,
and inorganic and organic carbon (Table 2). At three
locations we were able to sample in both wet and dry
seasons, but in general wet season sampling was sparse
due to high flood conditions.

4.1. Petrography
The bed sediments are mostly sand-sized (median
94 wt.%), and the silt size fraction is significant
( 25 wt.%) in only 4 samples (RD121, 218, 217, 213).
The framework grains of all 21 samples are angular to
sub-angular, suggesting that they have not been in the
sedimentary mill for long periods of time. The framework
grains were point counted once according to the standard
method to obtain Q:F:Rf ratios which can be interpreted in
terms of the mineralogical maturity (Fig. 3a). They were
counted a second time according to the GazziDickinson
method to obtain Q:F:L ratios which yield information on
tectonic provenance (Fig. 4a). The main difference
between the two methods is in the assignment of grains
within larger fragments to the category of the larger
fragment for the standard method and to the category of
the individual grain for the GazziDickinson method
(Ingersoll et al., 1984). Quartz and rock fragments are
found in subequal proportions, and feldspars are minor;
average of the three lowermost samples of the Da, Red

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J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

Fig. 3. (a) QFRf discrimination diagram with the compositional classification of Pettijohn et al. (1987) for the Red River system. (b) Ternary diagram
showing relative abundance of volcanic, sedimentary and plutonic + metamorphic rock fragments.

MC, and Lo is Q:F:Rf = 46:3:51. On the QFRf discrimination diagram, the samples occupy the lithic arenite
field (Pettijohn et al., 1987, p.158) with one exception
(Fig. 3a) and on the QFL diagram, the recycled orogen
field (Dickinson et al., 1983) (Fig. 4a). The ratio of stable
to unstable framework grains, Q / (Q + Rf ), is intermediate
and ranges from 0.29 to 0.52. An exceptional sample from
the Lo drainage (RD209) has a high Q / (Q + Rf ) ratio of

0.77 and straddles the sublitharenite and subarkose fields


(Fig. 3a). Since it was sampled below the Thac Ba
reservoir, it is likely affected by local input from sandstone and conglomerate from the Lo River banks which
also have similar lithic arenite to sublitharenite composition (Wysocka and Swierczewska, 2003). It is in great
contrast to the sample 90 km upstream on the Chay
above the reservoir (RD207) or the sample downstream

Fig. 4. (a) QFL diagram with tectonic discrimination according to Dickinson et al. (1983) for the Red River system. Filled or highlighted samples
indicate the lowermost samples of the three sub-basins. (b) QFL diagram with 90% confidence interval about the mean (Weltje, 2002) for the Red,
Brahmaputra and Indus Rivers (Garzanti et al., 2004, 2005).

J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

163

after confluence with the Lo main channel (RD213)


(Figs. 1b, 3a). The dry river bank sediment (RD209Bk) at
the same location as RD209, on the other hand, has QFRf
composition similar to the other samples (Fig. 3a).
The rock fragments in the Red River bed sediments
consist predominantly of sedimentary and metamorphic
grains with rare volcanic or plutonic grains (Table 1,
Fig. 3b), as is also the case of sandstones and conglomerates of the Lo River banks (Wysocka and Swierczewska, 2003), and reflect well the source lithology
of the Red River basin. Sample RD209 is again an
exception with very high (33%) plutonic rock fragments and relatively high (22%) heavy minerals, and its
bank sediment (RD209bk) has low (5%) plutonic grains
but high (65%) heavy minerals (Table 1, Fig. 3b). The
lowermost Lo sample (RD213), unlike other Lo system
samples, is almost exclusively sedimentary rock fragments (69%).
4.2. Major oxides
Most samples have SiO2, Al2O3, Fe2O3, MnO, Na2O,
and K2O concentrations that fall within the range
covered by the Upper Continental Crust (UCC)
(Rudnick and Gao, 2003) and the Average Phanerozoic
Sandstone (Condie, 1993)(Table 2). However, they are
depleted in MgO, CaO, and P2O5 and enriched in TiO2.
This is consistent with the relative mobility of these
elements during weathering. Some noticeable outlier
samples are RD207 above the Thac Ba Reservoir which
is high in Fe2O3 (11%) and MnO (0.25%) and RD209
below the reservoir which has high SiO2 (86%) and K2O
(2.4%) and is depleted in other major oxides.
Among the many plotting schemes that have been
used to show sediment maturity and tectonic setting
using major oxides, we opted for two (Roser and Korsch,
1986; Herron, 1988) that utilize Fe2O3/K2O, SiO2/
Al2O3, and K2O/Na2O ratios (Fig. 5). As was the case
with petrographic data, the samples are classified as
lithic arenites according to the major oxides data, except
for a few that straddle the boundary with wacke and two
that extend into subarkose (RD209) and sublitharenite
(RD207) fields (Fig. 5a). In terms of tectonic setting, all
the Da samples plot in the passive margin field, and
the Red and Lo samples are spread over the active
continental margin and passive margin fields (Fig. 5b).
4.3. Organic and inorganic carbon
The organic carbon (OC) and inorganic carbon (IC)
contents are <1 wt.% (Table 2). The OC is similar to and
the IC is lower than the bed sediments of the Huang He

Fig. 5. (a) Compositional maturity (Herron, 1988) and (b) tectonic setting
discrimination (Roser and Korsch, 1988) diagrams. Average sandstone
and UCC values are also plotted for reference. Filled or highlighted
samples indicate the lowermost samples of the three sub-basins.

(Yellow) and Chang Jiang (Yangtze) (0.091.27 and


0.731.65 wt.%, respectively) (Yang et al., 2004). There
is no correlation between OC and P2O5 (Table 2), and we
assume that all P2O5 is associated with apatite, Ca5
(PO4)3, such that 215 mol% of Ca in our bed sediment
samples is from apatite. Assuming that all IC in the bedload is from carbonates (calcite and dolomite), and that
calcite:dolomite mass ratio is 2.29 (average Phanerozoic
carbonate) (Mackenzie and Morse, 1992), we calculate
that the Ca in the Da and Red main channel samples is
associated mostly with carbonates (median 74 mol% Ca)
and that the Lo drainage samples have significant Ca
associated with silicates (median 58 mol% Ca).
4.4. Weathering indices
Various weathering indices have been developed and
used for characterizing the extent of weathering in soil
profiles. Since our samples are not from weathering
profiles developed on homogeneous parent rock but
sediments from heterogenous source rock and have

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J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

undergone sorting during transportation in river channels, the weathering indices could reflect variation in
parent rock composition rather than the degree of
weathering. However, as one of the conditions of a
useful weathering index is that it should permit
comparison of material developed from different parent
rock types (Price and Velbel, 2003), we adopt two of
them for river bed sediments. The most commonly used
is the chemical index of alteration (CIA) (Nesbitt and
Young, 1982).
CIA 100xAl2 O3 =Al2 O3 K2 O Na2 O CaO*;
where the major oxide concentrations are in molar units.
The CaO is from silicates and is calculated by subtracting from total CaO the fractions from apatite and
carbonate (See Section 4.3) (Table 2). The CIA ranges
between 45 (RD111 of the Lo) and 77 (RD121, 217, and
218 of the Da). The latter three high-CIA samples also
have high silt-size fractions (>30%)(Table 1). The Da
samples have a median CIA of 72, in the range of secondary minerals (Nesbitt and Young, 1982) and are interpreted to contain more weathered material than the Lo
samples (median CIA 56) at 5% significance level
(Fig. 6). The Red main channel samples have moderate
values (median CIA: 66).
Another weathering index that we considered is the
Weathering Index of Parker (WIP). It includes only the
highly mobile alkali and alkaline earth elements and not
Al2O3 (Parker, 1970) and for this reason is deemed to be

more sensitive to variation than the CIA and especially


appropriate for applications where parent rock is heterogeneous (Price and Velbel, 2003).
WIP 100xf2Na2 O=0:35 MgO=0:9
2K2 O=0:25 CaO*=0:7g;
where the concentrations are in molar units and lower
WIP values indicate more intensive weathering. WIP
varies from 13 (RD229) to 49 (RD111) and has a similar
spread to CIA (Table 2, Fig. 6b). The negative correlation with CIA is highly significant ( p < 0.01). In the
following discussion we use CIA because it is a more
generally used weathering index.
4.5. Relationship to climate, geomorphology, and
lithology
The parent rock composition, physical and chemical
weathering, and transport processes have all had their
effect on the river bed sediments analyzed in this study,
and the diverse factors are difficult to tease out. As a firstorder approach toward discriminating the effect of
provenance versus extent of weathering, we examined
the relationship between our petrographic and chemical
data and some representative climatic, geomorphologic
and lithologic parameters at tributary scales. Climatic
factors like temperature, precipitation, potential evapotranspiration, and runoff determine the intensity of
weathering, while geomorphologic factors like basin

Fig. 6. Extent of chemical weathering quantified using (a) the Chemical Index of Alteration (CIA) and (b) the Weathering Index of Parker (WIP). The
horizontal lines of the box and whiskers indicate the percentage of the samples below that line. Outliers (<5% or >95%) are marked with open circles.
Higher CIA values and lower WIP values are in theory more intensely weathered samples.

J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

length, area, and relief govern the duration of weathering


(Grantham and Velbel, 1988). These two effects are
combined in the Cumulative Chemical Weathering Index
(CCWI) of Grantham and Velbel (1988), where
CCWI runoff =relief =basin length:
The CCWI ranges from 5 (RD215, 206) for the dry
season of the Red MC to 890 (RD103) for the wet
season of lowermost Da (Table 3).
We chose three parameters, Q / (Q + Rf ), S / (S + M),
and CIA to summarize the petrographic and chemical data
and carried out stepwise multiple regression against each
of the GIS-based parameters (Table 3). Among the three
parameters, there is significant correlation between CIA
and S / (S + M) (p = 0.01). No correlation was found at 5%
significance interval for Q / (Q + Rf ) and S / (S + M). The
stepwise multiple regression indicated that the important
GIS parameters for CIA were the percentage of
sedimentary rock cover within the drainage basin and
temperature (Fig. 7). The correlation between CIA and
other climatic or geomorphologic factors or CCWI

Fig. 7. (a) Chemical Index of Alteration (CIA) has a positive


relationship with percentage of drainage area covered by sedimentary
rocks. (b) Relationship between CIA and air temperature.

165

was insignificant. The primary association of CIA with


S / (S + M) and % sedimentary rock cover suggests that the
CIA values of bed sediments mainly reflect the exposed
area of primary versus recycled source rocks. Temperature
is the second factor considered significant in the multiple
regression and is negatively related to CIA. We think this
relationship may be spuriously driven by a limited
number of summer samples (Fig. 7b). Thus, the chemistry
of the bed-load is affected by multiple factors with source
rock lithology, specifically its sedimentary or recycled
character, acting as the primary control.
5. Discussion
5.1. Seasonal, downstream, and interbasin variations
Three locations in the Da drainage were sampled
during both wet and dry seasons. The Da at Muong La,
above the Song Da Reservoir (RD103, 202) is the
lowermost sample on the Da; the other two are headwater tributaries. The seasonal variations in Q /(Q + Rf ),
S / (S + M), and WIP at these three locations are small
(Fig. 8). The Q / (Q + Rf ) is higher and thus mineralogically more mature during the wet season, but the S /
(S + M) or WIP vary inconsistently with season at
different locations.
We used three sites on the Da and five on the Red
main channel to evaluate the downstream change in
bed-load composition, and where both seasons are
available, we used the average (Fig. 9). We do not have
adequate number of Lo main channel samples. The Q /
(Q + Rf ) ratios are unvarying downstream except for
sample RD205 of the Red main channel at the border
between China and Vietnam (Fig. 9a). This sample has
extremely high rare earth element concentrations and
we suspect it has been affected by local input of high
REE minerals. This is consistent with the low Q / (Q +
Rf ) ratio since quartz is poor in REE. The rock
fragment composition changes from sedimentary
upstream to metamorphic downstream (Fig. 9b). The
covariation of S / (S + M) and CIA and the unorthodox
downstream trend in CIA towards fresher material
corroborates that the CIA of bed sediments is driven
not by the progressive weathering of bed sediments in
the channels but by the variability in the source
material (Fig. 9c). The sediments are diluted by less
weathered material as they are transported downstream.
Thus, the CIA results serve as a provenance index of
recycled sediments rather than an index of present
weathering regime. CIA as originally defined by
Nesbitt and Young (1982) was to be applied to soil
profiles developed on a single type of bedrock. Our

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J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

CIA (55 and 56, respectively) are probably derived from


local igneous rocks (Fig. 1a).
Inter-basin variation between the three tributary systems
is statistically insignificant in terms of their framework
grain and rock fragment compositions (Figs. 3a, 4). Though
there are individual samples that have distinctive compositions, the three basins at the lowermost locations have
very similar petrographic compositions (Figs. 3a, 4). We do
not observe any consistent inter-basin variation in major
element composition, but the CIA indicates that the Da has
a higher recycled component than the Red main channel
or the Lo (Fig. 6). On both mineralogical maturity and
tectonic classifications, the two Da drainage samples
(RD204 and RD217) are different from other Da samples
and plot closer to the Red main channel samples. They are
geographically juxtaposed to the Red main channel, but it is
unclear why the summer sample of RD217 does not also

Fig. 8. Seasonal variation for three Da river samples in (a) framework


grains, (b) rock fragments, and (c) major oxide-based weathering
index. Error bars indicate propagated analytical uncertainty.

result casts doubt on its uncritical usage where the


material originates from multiple sources.
There are two reservoirs in the Red River basin,
the Song Da Reservoir on the Da (23,500 ha) and the
Thac Ba Reservoir on the Chay (72,800 ha) tributaries
(Fig. 1b). Samples above (RD207) and below (RD209)
the Thac Ba reservoir can be used to examine the effect
of the reservoir on its bed sediments. Above the reservoir the sample has 15% of silt size sediments which
decrease to almost none below the reservoir. The SiO2
content is also higher above the reservoir (86% versus
64%), reflecting the higher quartz content. These
features suggest sediment trap effect, especially of the
fine particles, of the reservoir. The relatively high
feldspar point counts in both samples (16% and 10%
above and below reservoir, respectively) and the low

Fig. 9. Downstream change in maturity of bed sediments as reflected in


(a) framework grains, (b) rock fragments, and (c) major oxide-based
weathering index. See text for definition of CIA (Chemical Index of
Alteration).

J. Borges, Y. Huh / Sedimentary Geology 194 (2007) 155168

follow this trend (Fig. 5a,b). On average, inorganic carbon


content is significantly greater in the Red river main
channel drainage area (0.52 wt.%) than in the Lo (0.2 wt.%)
and Da (0.18 wt.%), but the organic carbon content is
similar in the three sub-basins.
5.2. Comparison to the Himalayan rivers
We compared our data for the Red River to that of the
Indus and the Brahmaputra which drain the two syntaxes
of the Himalayas (Garzanti et al., 2004, 2005). Petrographically, all three rivers are quartz-poor, with the bulk
of the samples falling in the lithicarenite field and in the
recycled orogen field consistent with their tectonic setting
(Fig. 4b). The high relief and physical erosion, as evidenced by high suspended sediment flux (Meybeck and
Ragu, 1997), explains the immaturity of the bed-load in
the three rivers. However, there are subtle differences as
well. The immaturity is manifested as high rock fragments
content in the Red and as high feldspar content in the
Indus and Brahmaputra. The average Q:F:Rf for the Red,
Indus, and Brahmaputra, are (46:4:50), (43:24:33), and
(57:21:22), respectively. Stated differently, the Himalayan
samples extend into the subarkose (Pettijohn et al., 1987)
and continental block fields (Dickinson et al., 1983)
(Garzanti et al., 2004, 2005). This we attribute to a
difference in source rock lithology sedimentary and
metamorphic rocks of the Red versus the two syntaxes of
the Himalayas the southeast Karakoram of the Indus
and the Namche Barwa of the Brahmaputra that are the
major suppliers of felsic bed sediments to the Indus and
Brahmaputra (Garzanti et al., 2004, 2005). The CIA
values for the Ganges (68) and Brahmaputra (73) are
similar to the Red (66) (Potter, 1978). The Indus has lower
CIA values of 51 in the headwaters of Ladakh Himalaya
and 46 in the Salt Range and near the mouth (Maynard
et al., 1991; Ahmad et al., 1998). Thus, recycled sedimentary material makes significant contributions to the
sediment load of both the Red and the Himalayan rivers
with the major distinction coming from the two Himalayan syntaxes which are unique suppliers of felsic sediments to the Indus and Brahmaputra.
6. Conclusions
We analyzed 21 bed sediment samples from the Red
River for petrography and chemistry. The Q / (Q + Rf ) and
major oxide ratios indicate that they are petrographically
and compositionally immature, and the bulk of the
samples can be classified as lithic arenite. On tectonic
discrimination diagrams some samples lie in recycled
orogen and others in passive or active margin fields. This

167

is broadly similar to the Himalayan rivers like the Indus,


Ganges and Brahmaputra, but the higher recycled versus
primary rocks in the drainage basin of the Red River is
reflected in the lower feldspar and higher rock fragment
contents. Sedimentary and metamorphic grains dominate
the rock fragments for the Red River, and the weathering
indices are best correlated with lithology. The sedimentary to metamorphic rock fragment ratio, S / (S + M), and
the chemical index of alteration (CIA) reflect the source
rocks within the basin. The difference in lithology in the
three sub-basins, Da, Red main channel, and Lo, are
likewise reflected in the CIA of the bed-load, with the Da
influenced more by the recycled sediments with high CIA.
Climatic and geomorphologic parameters do not have
statistically significant correlations with bed sediment
petrography or chemistry, indicating that the effect of
weathering cannot be discerned for the bed sediments in
these high-power streams.
Acknowledgments
We thank P.E. Potter for his guidance in sand
petrography, J. Qin of the Chengdu Institute of Geology
and Mineral Resources and Nguyen van Pho of the
Institute of Geological Sciences, Hanoi for the logistical
support during field sampling, S. Moon for the discussions and sharing data, and B. Sageman for access to the
coulometer at the N.U. Reviews by E. Garzanti and B.
Maynard greatly improved the quality of this paper. This
work was supported by the NSF-OCE 9911416 and NSFEAR 0134966 to Y. Huh.
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