An exploration for truth in soil parent materials in Hyalite Canyon, Montana

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


Forested mountain soils are mapped and researched at coarser scales than agricultural areas. Additionally existing mass balance approaches have only recently begun to quantify soil chemical weathering referenced to two parent materials. Forests occupy soils on gneiss, sandstone, shale, limestone, and basaltic andesite in a lithosequence. Differences in the trace chemistry of immobile elements and their ratios were used to determine the influence of underlying bedrock and other parent materials on soils in southwest Montana. Differences between soils and underlying rock and soils and other candidate parent materials were used to determine the relative influence of both parent materials on each soil horizon. A conventional mass balance approach quantified total and elemental chemical weathering for both parent materials. The relative influences, as informed by trace elements and ratios, were used to scale mass fluxes from each parent material into a hybrid mass flux. We characterized one soil pit per lithology, sampled soil horizons, rock type, and collected five samples regionally as deposited loess. Rock samples (as underlying rock and colluvium as appropriate) and atmospheric deposition were considered candidate parent materials to these soils. Samples were analyzed for major and trace elements. The trace elements or ratios used determined the relative influence of underlying rock versus a second parent material. We developed a methods to assess the immobility of specific elements relative to underlying rock. Ratios deemed most immobile were used to determine fractional influences of rock and a second parent material. Most soils had stronger rock influence at depth and stronger influences of atmospheric deposition at the surface, except for soil on sandstone and basaltic andesite. Regardless, accounting for additions of parent materials aside from underlying rock reduced total mass losses in all soils. The biggest mass loss reductions occurred (~50%) in soils on shale and gneiss, whereas mass loss reductions in soil on basaltic were more modest (~15%) when accounting for atmospheric deposition as a second parent material.




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