Climate strongly influences soil clay mineralogy and bulk chemical composition. In humid climates chemical weathering is at its most intense and virtually all ‘primary’ bedrock minerals suffer complete breakdown. They are replaced by authigenic hydrated oxides of Fe and Al together with halloysite and kaolinite in deep profiles. These minerals develop where the residence time of water in the soil is slight. Longer residence times lead to higher solute concentrations and the stabilization of smectite. Authigenic palygorskite and sepiolite may form in highly saline, alkaline soils. The stability of these precipitated minerals is problematic: they may be metastable or even unstable. All other clays found in soils are unstable, being incomplete, solid-state hydrolysis products of substrate minerals. The balance between stable, metastable and unstable minerals and the rate of profile development are both much influenced by temperature, rainfall and activities of soil biota; themselves reflecting climate.
Bedrock influence is greatest under conditions of low to moderate precipitation where unstable minerals persist. Local topography, however, also strongly influences both the rate and products of chemical weathering, quite independently of climate. On the grand scale, tectonic factors may constrain the time available for profiles to develop, hence the extent to which bedrock minerals survive or are altered. Mountain soils reflect local climate and bedrock composition much more than latitude.
The sediments delivered to major basins today do not reflect global soil distribution patterns. The bulk composition of suspended sediment entering the Indian Ocean, for example, is rather similar to that entering the Arctic Ocean. Sediment dispersal patterns can also confuse climatic signals: a problem not encountered with palaeosols. Authigenic clays formed within sedimentary basins and post-depositional (burial) alteration of both sediments and buried soil profiles must lead to interpretational ambiguities. Climatic signals are likely to survive best in bulk compositional data (although diagenetic reactions at depths in excess of about 2 km do not appear to be isochemical) and in the distribution of more stable yet climatically sensitive minerals (kaolinite as opposed to illite, chlorite).
- Received February 23, 1989.
- Revision received June 6, 1989.
- © Geological Society of London 1990