Soil chemistry and clay mineralogy of an alluvial chronosequence from the north Carolina Sandhills of the upper coastal plain, USA

Bradley E. Suther, Kennesaw State University
David S. Leigh, University of Georgia
Larry T. West, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service


Temporal changes in soil development were assessed on fluvial terraces of the Little River in the upper Coastal Plain of North Carolina. We examined five profiles from each of six surfaces spanning about 100,000 years. Soil-age relationships were evaluated with inter-surface clay mineral comparisons and regression of chemical properties versus previously reported optically-stimulated luminescence ages using the most developed subsoil horizon per profile. Bases to alumina (Bases/Al2 O3 ) ratios have negative correlations with age, whereas dithionite-Fe (FeD ) concentrations are positively correlated with time and differentiate floodplain (<200 yr>BP) from terrace (≥10 ± 2 ka) soils and T4 pedons (75 ± 10 ka) from younger (T1-T3b, 10 ± 2–55 ± 15 ka) and older (T5b, 94 ± 16 ka) profiles. Entisols develop into Ultisols with exponentially decreasing Bases/Al2 O3 ratios, reflecting rapid weatherable mineral depletion and alumina enrichment during argillic horizon development in the first 13–21 kyr of pedogenesis. Increasing FeD represents transformation and illuviation of free Fe inherited from parent sediments. Within ~80–110 kyr, a mixed clay mineral assemblage becomes dominated by kaolinite and gibbsite. Argillic horizons form by illuviation, secondary mineral transformations, and potentially, a bioturbation-translocation mechanism, in which clays distributed within generally sandy deposits are transported to surface horizons by ants and termites and later illuviated to subsoils. T5b profiles have FeD concentrations similar to, and gibbsite abundances greater than, those of pedons on 0.6–1.6 Ma terraces along Coastal Plain rivers that also drain the Appalachian Piedmont. This is likely because the greater permeability and lower weatherable mineral contents of sandy, Coastal Plain-sourced Little River alluvium favor more rapid weathering, gibbsite formation, and Fe translocation than the finer-grained, mineralogically mixed sediments of Piedmont-draining rivers. Therefore, recognizing provenance-related textural and mineralogical distinctions is crucial for evaluating regional chronosequences.