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Dating and Understanding the Formation of Calcic Desert Soils (Aridisols, Torriorthents) How does carbonate grow on gravels in desert soils? How do we.

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Presentation on theme: "Dating and Understanding the Formation of Calcic Desert Soils (Aridisols, Torriorthents) How does carbonate grow on gravels in desert soils? How do we."— Presentation transcript:

1 Dating and Understanding the Formation of Calcic Desert Soils (Aridisols, Torriorthents) How does carbonate grow on gravels in desert soils? How do we measure how old the carbonate (and the soils) are? What chemical information does the carbonate have that tells us about climate? A brief overview of these questions…..

2 Why does carbonate grow as rings on bottom (or top) of gravels? Scientists intuitively thought that carbonate forms on bottoms as water drips down and evaporates We, to our surprise, found that carbonate grows on tops of gravels in a study of soils in Baja California…..




6 northsouth

7 Southern (summer rain) site (coarse-loamy, mixed, hyperthermic Aridic Ustorthent

8 Northern (winter rain) site (coarse-loamy, mixed, thermic Xeric Torriorthent

9 Why is carbonate oriented (top vs. bottom) on soil gravels? Carbonate solubility in water is affected by temperature –Carbonate is more soluble in cooler water Thermal gradients (temp vs. depth) differ in winter vs. summer sites….

10 Temperature vs. depth reversed in two climate zones when rain falls…. in winter sites, temp increases with depth –Gravel bottoms warmer in summer sites, temp decreases with depth –Gravel tops warmer Maxiumum temp gradients ~ C/cm

11 Summary Carbonate layers seem to adhere to rock position that is warmest Layers tend to grow with time, but the process is confounded by events that occasionally dissolve or break off layers –Observable by stratigraphic relations –Timing is determined by dating…


13 How do we measure how old these layers are? Measure concentrations of radioactive elements (isotopes of elements) in carbonate What elements (isotopes) can be used? – 14 C Formed by cosmic rays interacting with N Decay is relatively rapid, and only relevant for ages < 40,000 yrs Incorporated into carbonate via CO2 from air –U/Th isotopes Naturally occuring in rocks Form a chain of daughters that reach steady state U incorporated into CO3 structure Weathering rock to form carbonate disrupts steady state –Th is insoluble and is not present in carbonate (thus, amount of Th in carbonate is guide to how old it is)….

14 Principles of 14 C Dating The 14 C content of source (atm) must be either constant or known over time The 14 C content of the sampel must be same as atm (or known) at time of formation The decay rate of 14 C must be known The sample must be closed and not exchange C after formation

15 14 C of atmosphere not constant over long….. 0 o/oo is the 14C/12C ratio of CO2 relative to atmosphere of Large trends in 14C over time due to: –Solar activity and production –Changes in global C cycle (that allow 14C to build up in atm)

16 Or recent time spans….. From 1800s to 1950s, 14 C was declining due to influx of fossil fuel CO 2 (no 14 C) (the Suess effect) After mid 1950s to mid 1960s, atmospheric CO 2 doubled due to above ground nuclear weapons testing…

17 Summary of dating criteria Atmospheric CO2 14C not constant, but known. Relationship between soils and atmosphere now known (see next discussion) Decay rate of 14C known Carbonates CAN be closed systems….

18 Calculating 14 C ages:

19 Measuring and reporting F 14 C commonly reported as D values (relative to standard) These can be easily related to F……..

20 How is the 14 C of soil CO 2 related to that of the atmosphere? roots release recently acquired C, no radioactive loss of 14 C Humus decomposition release soil C depleted in 14 C due to residence times of ~10 3 years –Humus 14 C depletion increases as soil gets older, eventually reaching a s.s. 14 C roots = atm 14 C humus < atm (radioactive decay CO 2

21 14 C content of carbonate layers due to: Proportion of soil CO2 from roots vs. humus Soil age (due to change in 14C of humus with time).

22 Carbonate age interpretations Initial 14C reflects effect of humus C inputs 14C age of an individual layer related to initial 14C age and time it has been undergoing decay Integrated 14C age less than total age but can be used to calculate total elapsed time using scenerios like this…

23 Understanding Mojave Desert Soils via Soil Carbonates Some questions: How does depth of leaching change with time? Can we identify soil horizons (Bk) formed at different times? What does the composition of the carbonate tell us about climate/vegetation change?

24 Change in leaching depth with time Soil water holding capacity changes with time due to: –Increase in dust accumulation at surface –Increase in clay in Bt horizons –Reduction in infiltration rates enhances erosive processes…. Amount of water available for leaching changes with time due to climate change

25 Soil carbonate formation and history in Mojave Desert: Providence Mtns. Soils form on series of alluvial fans from grantic vs. limestone Part of soil/geological study of U of NM colleagues We focused on dating and climate history of youngest 4 (spanning late Pleistocene to Holocene).

26 Carbonate Dating reveals how old soils and alluvial features are…….. Major soil age brackets of 11-8 ka, 8-7 ka, and 6-4 ka correspond to documented lake level highs in Mojave desert This suggests that erosion deposition cycles are driven (as hypothesized) by climate oscillations.

27 Carbonate depth patterns and age… approximate depth of modern carbonate movement Depth of Pleistocene carbonate movement What was the magnitude of climate change?

28 C and O isotope trends with time… C isotopes suggest decreasing vegetation cover with time –We know from packrat midden studies the type (C3 vs C4) hasnt change much (always C3 in Mojave). O isotopes suggest warming and increased evaporation (increasing 18O of remaining soil water –Circulation likely hasnt changed, so temp and evaporation are the main causes…. Increasing atm vs biological CO2 (less plant cover) Increase in both temp and evaporation of soil water

29 Summary of paleosols and carbonate isotopes Paleosols are important part of geologic record for learning about terrestrial climate C isotopes in carbonate a guide to plant type in most cases, and degree of plant cover in super dry climates O isotopes a somewhat complex parameter that reflects some combination of temperature, storm directions, and evaporation Carbonate can be dated using radioactive clocks like 14C Soil carbonate forms where water become saturated with Ca and CO3, and is temperature dependent (and orientation may reflect seasonality of precip). Remember concepts, not details !!!!!!!!

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