Soils as relative-age dating tools

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Soils develop at the earth's surface via multiple processes that act through time. Precluding burial or disturbance, soil genetic horizons form progressively and reflect the balance among formation processes, surface age, and original substrate composition. Soil morphology provides a key link between process and time (soil age), enabling soils to serve as both relative and numerical dating tools for geomorphic studies and landscape evolution. Five major factors define the contemporary state of all soils: climate, organisms, topography, parent material, and time. Soils developed on similar landforms and parent materials within a given landscape comprise what we term a soil/landform/substrate complex. Soils on such complexes that differ in development as a function of time represent a soil chronosequence. In a soil chronosequence, time constitutes the only independent formation factor; the other factors act through time. Time dictates the variations in soil development or properties (field or laboratory measured) on a soil/landform/substrate complex. Using a dataset within the chronosequence model, we can also formulate various soil development indices based upon one or a combination of soil properties, either for individual soil horizons or for an entire profile. When we evaluate soil data or soil indices mathematically, the resulting equation creates a chronofunction. Chronofunctions help quantify processes and mechanisms involved in soil development, and relate them mathematically to time. These rigorous kinds of comparisons among and within soil/landform complexes constitute an important tool for relative-age dating. After determining one or more absolute ages for a soil/landform complex, we can calculate quantitative soil formation, and or landform-development rates. Multiple dates for several complexes allow rate calculations for soil/landform-chronosequence development and soil-chronofunction calibration.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Soils as relative-age dating tools
DOI 10.1002/9781118786352.wbieg0437
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Contributing office(s) Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center
Description 14 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title The International Encyclopedia of Geography