The origin of red or reddish-brown, clay-rich, "terra rossa" soils on limestone has been debated for decades. A traditional qualitative explanation for their formation has been the accumulation of insoluble residues as the limestone is progressively dissolved over time. However, this mode of formation often requires unrealistic or impossible amounts of carbonate dissolution. Therefore, where this mechanism is not viable and where local fluvial or colluvial inputs can be ruled out, an external source or sources must be involved in soil formation. On the north coast of the Caribbean island of Jamaica, we studied a sequence of terra rossa soils developed on emergent limestones thought to be of Quaternary age. The soils become progressively thicker, redder, more Fe- and Al-rich and Si-poor with elevation. Furthermore, although kaolinite is found in all the soils, the highest and oldest soils also contain boehmite. Major and trace element geochemistry shows that the host limestones and local igneous rocks are not likely source materials for the soils. Other trace elements, including the rare earth elements (REE), show that tephra from Central American volcanoes is not a likely source either. However, trace element geochemistry shows that airborne dust from Africa plus tephra from the Lesser Antilles island arc are possible source materials for the clay-rich soils. A third, as yet unidentified, source may also contribute to the soils. We hypothesize that older, more chemically mature Jamaican bauxites may have had a similar origin. The results add to the growing body of evidence of the importance of multiple parent materials, including far-traveled dust, to soil genesis.
Additional publication details
Geochemical evidence for African dust and volcanic ash inputs to terra rossa soils on carbonate reef terraces, northern Jamaica, West Indies