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Initial stages of soil and clay mineral formation

English title Initial stages of soil and clay mineral formation
Applicant Egli Markus
Number 117568
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Geographisches Institut Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Pedology
Start/End 01.04.2008 - 31.03.2010
Approved amount 105'850.00
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Keywords (5)

clay mineralogy; soil chemistry; weathering; soil chronosequence; proglacial area

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
Chemical weathering of rocks is extremely important for the generation of soils, for the evolution of landscape and as a main source of inorganic nutrients for plant growth and therefore for life. Previous investigations in Alpine areas indicated that weathering and mineral formation and transformation processes should be very fast at the beginning of soil formation. Weathering rates of young soils (age < 1000 years) seem to be two to three orders of magnitude higher than of ‘old’ soils (c. 10’000 years). On an empirical basis little is known how fast such processes really are. The proposed study investigates soil material in proglacial areas having an age between 0 - 150 years. The study of soil chronosequences is an important tool to derive weathering rates and the formation or transformation of soil minerals. Such a sequence will be investigated in the Morteratsch proglacial area (Upper Engadine, Switzerland). This proglacial area is very well documented regarding retreat positions of the glacier, vegetation and soils. During the last 150 years, the Morteratsch glacier, as one of the few Alpine glaciers, continuously retreated leaving fresh material to weathering. Soils continuously formed. Surprisingly, soil formation was more advanced on north-facing sites. Special emphasis will be given to the weathering of amphiboles, chlorite and biotite: a quick transformation of these minerals into HIV, vermiculite and smectites must be assumed. Accordingly, the clay fraction as well as the fraction 2 - 32µm and the fine earth (< 2mm) will be studied in detail regarding (clay) minerals. Calcite that is not only confined to carbonate geology may also play a role in subglacial environments. It is not known for how long such an influence is significant and measurable. Furthermore, element mass balances will be of special interest. The planned investigations will give a detailed insight into the mechanisms and velocity of weathering processes (element denudation, mineral formations and transformations) with a high temporal and spatial resolution. By the use of an existing vegetation monitoring in the proglacial area, soil map and digital elevation model, the role of soil, topography and vegetation development on chemical weathering can be analysed in detail.
With the help of such a chronosequence initial stages of soil formation, mineral weathering, transformations and formations can be studied and, therefore, also initial stages of life.
Understanding the processes on a small scale is of major importance and will provide process mechanisms that can be used as a basis for modelling and/or extrapolation to other proglacial areas.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
124380 Constructing a temporal framework for landscape dynamics in the eastern Swiss Alps during the Lateglacial and early Holocene 01.04.2009 Project funding (Div. I-III)
146839 Influence of permafrost on chemical weathering and erosion in high Alpine areas 01.09.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)
134479 Influence of permafrost on chemical weathering and erosion in high Alpine areas 01.09.2011 Project funding (Div. I-III)
129500 Initial stages of soil and clay mineral formation 01.04.2010 Project funding (Div. I-III)