Comprehensive understanding of chemical and mineralogical changes induced by weathering is valuable information when considering the supply of nutrients and toxic elements from rocks. Here minerals that release and fix major elements during progressive weathering of a bed of Devonian New Albany Shale in eastern Kentucky are documented. Samples were collected from unweathered core (parent shale) and across an outcrop excavated into a hillside 40 year prior to sampling. Quantitative X-ray diffraction mineralogical data record progressive shale alteration across the outcrop. Mineral compositional changes reflect subtle alteration processes such as incongruent dissolution and cation exchange. Altered primary minerals include K-feldspars, plagioclase, calcite, pyrite, and chlorite. Secondary minerals include jarosite, gypsum, goethite, amorphous Fe(III) oxides and Fe(II)-Al sulfate salt (efflorescence). The mineralogy in weathered shale defines four weathered intervals on the outcrop-Zones A-C and soil. Alteration of the weakly weathered shale (Zone A) is attributed to the 40-a exposure of the shale. In this zone, pyrite oxidization produces acid that dissolves calcite and attacks chlorite, forming gypsum, jarosite, and minor efflorescent salt. The pre-excavation, active weathering front (Zone B) is where complete pyrite oxidation and alteration of feldspar and organic matter result in increased permeability. Acidic weathering solutions seep through the permeable shale and evaporate on the surface forming abundant efflorescent salt, jarosite and minor goethite. Intensely weathered shale (Zone C) is depleted in feldspars, chlorite, gypsum, jarosite and efflorescent salts, but has retained much of its primary quartz, illite and illite-smectite. Goethite and amorphous FE(III) oxides increase due to hydrolysis of jarosite. Enhanced permeability in this zone is due to a 14% loss of the original mass in parent shale. Denudation rates suggest that characteristics of Zone C were acquired over 1 Ma. Compositional differences between soil and Zone C are largely attributed to illuvial processes, formation of additional Fe(III) oxides and incorporation of modern organic matter.
Additional publication details
Weathering of the New Albany Shale, Kentucky, USA: I. Weathering zones defined by mineralogy and major-element composition