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Weathering and SoilSummary of Important Concepts • Soil is a layer of weathered rock, minerals, and organic matter at the earth’s surface that supports plant life. • The main factors that determine the characteristics of a soil are climate (mainly temperature and rainfall), topography, type of parent rock material, organic activity, and the amount of time that the soil has been forming. • Soil forms from regolith - broken up rock material at the earth’s surface. Soil forms as regolith undergoes weathering - the physical and chemical breakdown of rock.- Physical weathering is breakdown of rock by physical forces. Example: rock wedged apart by freezingwater or by plant roots.- Chemical weathering is breakdown of rock by chemical reactions. Examples: dissolution, oxidation,and hydrolysis reactions.SoilIt has been said that soil represents “a few inches between humanity and starvation”. This phrase puts theimportance of soil in perspective. Soil is a layer of weathered rock, minerals, and organic matter at theearth’s surface that supports plant life. Without soil, human life would not be possible.Soil is composed of mineral matter from weathered rock; water, gases, and organic matter (the remains ofplant and animal material and bacteria).Weathering and Soil Formation • Soil forms from regolith - the term used for broken up rock material at the earth’s surface. • Rock (regolith) exposed at the earth’s surface undergoes weathering - the physical and chemical breakdown of rock at the earth’s surface. Two main types of weathering occur: physical weathering and chemical weathering.Physical weathering is breakdown of rock by physical forces.Chemical weathering is breakdown of rock by chemical reactions that occur when rock and mineralmatter interact with water and air.Physical Weathering and Chemical Weathering work hand in hand: Physical disintegration creates moresurface area for chemical processes to act upon minerals. Smaller pieces have a greater surface area:volume so they are easily ‘attacked’ by chemical weathering.WaterWater is a Polar Molecule: Although it is neutral, the charges ‘build up’ on either side of the molecule. It ismore positive on one side (H) and more negative on the other (O). Hydrogen bonding between watermolecules gives it surface tension.1. Universal Solvent: Right shows a water molecule. Note the slightly positive charge on one end andslightly negative charge on the other. Although it is electrically neutral, the ‘slight’ difference in charge oneither side makes the molecule easily dissolve weakly (ionic) bound minerals.
2. Hydrolysis: Water can split to form H+ and OH- ions.The number of H+ ions in a solution determines the pH of the solution where pH=1 is acidic with many H+ions, 7 is neutral and pH=14 Basic with few H+ ions.3. Expands When Frozen; densest at 4oC.Physical Weathering: Physically disintegrating but not changing chemically.Physical Weathering: Physically disintegrating but not changing chemically.Frost Wedging, very effective at breaking up rocks. Only in climates with frequent freeze/thaw cycles.Water seeps into cracks in rock. Temperature drops resulting in the ice at the surface to freeze (thusforming a CAP). The remaining water freezes and expands exerting a great force against the rock causing itto crack. This process occurs in temperate climates that has significant precipitation (to supply the water tofreeze and thaw).Thermal Contraction and Expansion•Thermal contraction and expansion is also related to temperate climates, especially those with high dailytemperatures and extremely low night time temperatures (like the desert)—that is a WIDE daily range intemperature.•During the day time, hot high temperatures cause atoms to spread further apart (expand) and at night, colddrops in temperatures cause atoms to contract.•Repeated on a daily basis, thermal contraction and expansion due to wide daily ranges in temperatureseffectively render rocks weak and they break.Abrasion: The longer sediments or rocks or pebbles are in transit, the more bumping and abrading itundergoes. • Well rounded sediments indicate LONG TRANSPORTATION TIME. • The shorter the transportation time, the more angular the clasts (sediments/rocks). Not enough time for abrasion.Pressure Release/Unloading: Intrusive rocks form within the earth’s crust under severe confining pressures(and so are stable under pressure). Once the pressure (layers of rock above are removed) is relieved, therock expands and cracks.Biological Weathering: plant/tree roots can be very powerful. Root systems can squeeze through cracks, andas the plant grows, enlarge the cracks.Chemical Weathering: breakdown of rock by chemical reactions that occur when rock and mineralmatter interact with water and air.The main types of chemical weathering are: • Dissolution by Water: Dissolving minerals into their constituent ions or molecules into solution. . • Carbonation: Dissolution of carbonate minerals (limestones and marble). Requires the solution to be acidic. • Hydrolysis: Decomposes silicates; this reaction produces clay minerals - the most important minerals in soil. • Oxidation: Free oxygen atoms dissolved in water combine with iron in the rock, producing iron oxide minerals.
Important: nearly all chemical weathering proceeds faster under wetter conditions.Dissolution by WaterDissolving minerals into their constituent ions or molecules into solution. Water being a polar molecule cangang up on charged ions (i.e. sodium and chloride). Because of the polar nature of the water molecules, theyare able to ‘pull’ Na from Cl—once this is done, water molecules surround the ions preventing them fromforming ionic bonds. Straight dissolution by water dissolves ionic bonds easily.Dissolution can also take place a little quicker if the water is acidic (has many H+ ions dissolved in it)—seecarbonation and hydrolysis.Dissolution by Acid(Carbonation using carbonic acid example)Carbonation: Dissolution of carbonate minerals specifically (calcite in limestones and marble). Requires thesolution to be acidic.Where we can get acid:H2O + CO2 -> H2CO3 -> H+ + HCO3-Water + Carbon Dioxide -> Carbonic Acid -> Hydrogen Ion + Bicarbonate IonThe acid splits to H+ ions and Bicarbonate ions. The more H+ ions in solution, the more acidic the solutionand the lower the pH.Carbonation Reaction Equation:CaCO3 + H+ + HCO3- -> Ca+2 + 2(HCO3)-Calcite + Hydrogen Ions + Bicarbonate Ion -> Calcium Ion + 2 Bicarbonate Ions.After dissolving rocks with calcite, the H+ ions are no longer dissolved in solution rendering the solution nolonger ACIDIC. • Chemical Weathering of Limestone: easy to do so long as you have some ACID in the rain. Marble (limestone is the parent) headstones don’t last as long as granite headstones (or buildings for that matter). • Karst Topography: Weathering of limestone (calcite) forms KARST. Groundwater essentially dissolves limestone. When rocks above these underground tunnels and caves are eroded away, the limestone is exposed. More weathering of the limestone at the surface will occur, and eventually these little hills will dissolve away.HydrolysisDecomposes silicates; this reaction produces clay minerals - the most important minerals in soil.4KAlSi3O8 + 4H+ + 2H2O -> 4K+ + Al4Si4O10(OH)8 + 8SiO2Orthoclase + Hydrogen Ion + Water -> Potassium Ion Kaolinite (clay min.) + QuartzFeldspar is a KAl silicate. If we take a weak acid and dissociate it into H+ + HCO3- in water, the H+ ions willact upon the feldspar. Note potassium feldspar’s chemical formula and then look at the chemical formulaafter hydrolysis. Where did the K+ ions go?Hydrolysis weakens the mineral—H+ is the smallest ion (atomic number of 1). Hydrogen ions basically kickout the K+ ions (much larger in size) and shove themselves into the crystalline lattice—tremendously
weakening the mineral.Imagine a cinder block wall. Wherever there would be a K ion (lets just say every tenth cinder block forexample), remove every tenth cinder block and replace it with a lego. You can see how the integrity andstrength of the cinder block wall is significantly weakened by sticking smaller ions in place of larger ones!OxidationThis would be the reaction between water, iron and oxygen. You know like the rust you’d find on my car! Bybonding oxygen to iron atoms, the new mineral (hematite) is structurally weaker than straight metallic iron.Oxidation of iron in sediments produces red color sediments and is an indication that 1. iron is present, 2.oxygen is present and 3. water is present.All this red clay in my backyard—well it was produced by a stream! No there is no stream in my backyardtoday, but the principle of uniformitarianism suggests that red colored sediments are produced by streamstoday, and streams must have produced the red sediments in my backyard some time ago.Weathering of Common RocksCHEMICAL WEATHERING EFFECTIVELY BREAKS DOWN ROCK MINERAL BY MINERAL, GRAIN BYGRAIN; WEAKENING IT SO THAT IT IS EASILY ERODED AND TRANSPORTED AWAY.Rock Primary Minerals Residual Minerals Leached IonsGranite Feldspars Clay Minerals Na+, K+ Micas Clay Minerals K+ Quartz Quartz ____ Fe,Mg Minerals Clay Minerals, Mg+2 Hematite, GoethiteBasalt Feldspars Clay Minerals Na+, Ca+2 Fe,Mg Minerals Clay Minerals Mg+2 Magnetite Hematite, Goethite ____Limestone Calcite NONE Ca+2, CO3-2Controls on Weathering•Time: The longer the minerals are exposed to weathering agents, the more weathering will occur.•Climate (Influences both chemical and physical weathering). –Abundant precipitation allows for fresh, aggressive water to rapidly dissolve minerals without becoming saturated. Warm temperatures increase chemical reaction rates. Warm, tropical climates have accelerated chemical weathering. –Climates with wide ranges in high and low temperatures (daily) will result in daily freeze thaw cycles (frost wedging) or aid in expansion and contraction (hot/cold temperatures). –Chemical weathering is pronounced in warmer, tropical climates whereas physical weathering dominates
temperate (not too hot, not too cold—seasonal) climates.•Rock Chemical Composition (Silicate minerals higher on Bowen’s reaction series are weaker). The higher thepercentage of stronger minerals (more covalent bonding), the longer weathering will take.Soil ProfilesDigging down into a soil, you would notice that the soil zone has a layered appearance. This layering is called asoil profile. Each layer of a soil profile is called a horizon.Soil profiles vary between different types of soils, but one can often recognize the “O”, “A”, “B”, and “C”horizons in many soils.O horizon: a thin layer of partially decomposed organic matter called humus.A horizon: called the zone of leaching; in this area mineral matter is dissolved by water percolating down.B horizon: called the zone of accumulation; in this area particles and dissolved materials from the A horizonare deposited.C horizon: a zone of transition from soil to rock, consisting of weathered parent bedrock.