Granitic terrain comprises a significant area of the earth’s land surface (>15%). Quantifying weathering processes involved in the transformation of granitic rock to saprolite and soil is central to understanding landscape evolution in these systems. The quantification of primary mineral composition is important for assessing subsequent mineral transformations and soil production. This study focuses on coupling detailed analysis of primary mineral composition to soil development across an array of field sites sampled from the Santa Catalina Mountain Critical Zone observatory (SCM-CZO) environmental gradient. The gradient spans substantial climate-driven shifts in vegetation, ranging from desert scrub to mixed conifer forests. The parent material is a combination of Precambrian and Tertiary aged granites and quartz diorite. Primary mineral type and composition are known to vary among the various aged granitic materials and this variability is hypothesized to manifest as significant variation in regolith forming processes across the SCM-CZO. To address this variability, the mineral composition and mineral formulae of rock and saprolite samples were determined by electron microprobe chemical analyses. The rocks were pre-dominantly quartz, biotite, muscovite, orthoclase and calcium/sodium-rich plagioclase feldspars. Trace minerals observed in the samples included sphene, rutile, zircon, garnet, ilmenite, and apatite. Mineral formulae from electron microprobe analyses were combined with quantitative x-ray diffraction (QXRD) and x-ray fluorescence (XRF) data to quantify both primary and secondary mineralogical components in soil profiles from each of the field sites. Further, electron microprobe analyses of <2mm mixed conifer saprolite revealed weathered plagioclase grains coated with clay-sized particles enriched in silica and aluminum (~25% and 15%, respectively), suggesting kaolin as the secondary phase. The coatings were interspersed within each plagioclase grain, a strong indicator that the grain was transforming in situ to secondary weathering products. Other feldspar minerals in the sample appeared relatively un-weathered and were contained within perthite structural units where the plagioclase minerals were preserved as intergrowths of the orthoclase groundmasses. These results suggest differential plagioclase weathering pathways that may have resulted from variations in physical erosion rates or different geologic configurations of the feldspar minerals. Secondary mineral assemblages of the sample included kaolinite, dehydrated halloysite, illite, vermiculite, chlorite and gibbsite, indicating chemical alteration of both micas and feldspars. Current research is focused on additional electron microprobe analyses of surface and saprolite samples from other field areas along the gradient. The electron microprobe data aided in the constraint of chemical weathering processes as related to primary mineral composition.
Lybrand, R.A., Rasmussen, C. (2011): Quantifying elemental compositions of primary minerals from granitic rocks and saprolite within the Santa Catalina Mountain Critical Zone Observatory. AGU Fall Meeting Presentations (Poster) Abstract B33G-0554..