Unconformable surfaces separating Precambrian crystalline basement and overlying Proterozoic to Cambrian sedimentary rocks provide an exceptional opportunity to examine the role of primitive soil ecosystems in weathering and resultant formation of saprolite (weathered rock retaining rock structure) and regolith (weathered rock without rock structure), but many appear to have been affected by burial diagenesis and hydrothermal fluid flow, leading some researchers to discount their suitability for such studies. We examine one modern weathering profile (Cecil series), four Cambrian paleoweathering profiles from the North American craton (Squaw Creek, Franklin Mountains, Core SQ-8, and Core 4), one Neoproterozoic profile (Sheigra), and one late Paleoproterozoic profile (Baraboo), to test the hypothesis that these paleoweathering profiles do provide evidence of primitive terrestrial weathering despite their diagenetic and hydrothermal overprinting, especially additions of potassium. We employ an integrated approach using (1) detailed thin-section investigations to identify characteristic pedogenic features associated with saprolitization and formation of well-drained regoliths, (2) electron microprobe analysis to identify specific weathered and new mineral phases, and (3) geochemical mass balance techniques to characterize volume changes during weathering and elemental gains and losses of major and minor elements relative to the inferred parent materials. There is strong pedogenic evidence of paleoweathering, such as clay illuviation, sepic-plasmic fabrics, redoximorphic features, and dissolution and alteration of feldspars and mafic minerals to kaolinite, gibbsite, and Fe oxides, as well as geochemical evidence, such as whole-rock losses of Na, Ca, Mg, Si, Sr, Fe, and Mn greater than in modern profiles. Evidence of diagenesis includes net additions of K, Ba, and Rb determined through geochemical mass balance, K-feldspar overgrowths in overlying sandstone sections, and K-feldspars with reaction rims in weathered basement. The sub-Cambrian paleoweathering profiles formed on granite are remarkably similar to modern weathering profiles formed on granite, in spite of overprinting by potassium diagenesis. ?? 2007 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Differentiating pedogenesis from diagenesis in early terrestrial paleoweathering surfaces formed on granitic composition parent materials