Undisturbed cores of saprolite developed on crystalline rocks of the Piedmont Province in Fairfax County, Virginia have been obtained using a combination of Shelby tubes, Denison sampler, and modified diamond core-drilling. The principal purpose of the core study is to correlate variations in chemistry, mineralogy and texture with engineering properties throughout the weathering profile. Coring sites were chosen to obtain a maximum depth of weathering on diverse lithologies. The rocks investigated include pelitic schist, metagraywacke, granite, diabase and serpentinite. Four to twelve samples per core were selected, depending on thickness of 1) the weathering profile (from about 1 m in serpentinite to more than 30 m in pelitic schist) and on 2) megascopic changes in saprolite character for analysis of petrography, texture, clay mineralogy andd major element chemistry. Shear strength and compressibility were determined on corresponding segments of core. Standard penetration tests were performed adjacent to coring sites to evaluate engineering properties in situ.
Geochemical changes of saprolite developed from each rock type follow predictable trends from fresh rock to soil profile, with relative Increases in Si, Ti, Al, Fe3+ and H20; variable K; and relative loss of Fe 2+, Mg, Ca, and Na. These variations are more pronounced in the weathering profiles over mafic and ultramafic rocks than metagraywacke. Clay minerals in granite, schist and metagraywacke saprolite are kaolinite, dioctahedral vermiculite, interlayered micavermiculite, and minor illite. Gibbsite is locally developed in near-surface samples of schist.
Standard penetration test data for the upper 7 m of saprolite over schist and metagraywacke suggest alternations between stronger and weaker horizons than probably reflect variations in lithology including the presence of quartz lenses. Results for granite saprolite are most consistent but indicate lower strength. Shear strength increases fairly regularly downward in the weathering profile. The engineering behavior of diabase saprolite is controlled by a dense, plastic, near-surface clay layer (montmorillonite and kaolinite)overlying rock which is weathered to a granular state (grus), while engineering properties of serpentinite are determined by a very thin weathering profile.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Mineralogical, chemical, and physical properties of the regolith overlying crystalline rocks, Fairfax County, Virginia: a preliminary report