Calcic soils and calcretes in the southwestern United States

Open-File Report 77-794
By:  and 



Secondary calcium carbonate of diverse origins, 'caliche' of many authors, is widespread in the southwestern United States. 'Caliche' includes various carbonates such as calcic soils and products of groundwater cementation. The term 'caliche' is generally avoided in this report in favor of such terms as calcrete, calcic soils, and pervasively cemented deposits. Criteria for the recognition of various types of calcrete of diverse origins include field relations and laboratory data. Calcic soils provide a comprehensive set of characteristics that aid in their recognition in the field. These characteristics include a distinctive morphology that is zoned horizontally and can frequently be traced over tens to hundreds of square kilometers. The major process in the formation of pedogenic calcrete and calic soils is the leaching of calcium carbonate from upper soil horizons by downward percolating soil solutions and reprecipitation of the carbonate in alluvial horizons near the base of the soil profile. The formation of pedogenic calcrete involves many factors including climate, source of carbonate, and tectonic stability of the geomorphic surface on which the calcrete is deposited. Most of the carbonate in pedogenic calcrete is probably derived from windblown sand, dust, and rain. Calcic soils and pedogenic calcretes follow a six-stage sequence morphologic development and is based on a classification devised by Gile, Peterson and Grossman in 1966. The .six morphologic stages of carbonate deposition in soils are related to the relative age of the soil and are as follows: I. The first or youngest stage includes filamentous or faint coatings of carbonate on detrital grains. II. The second stage includes pebble coatings which are continuous; firm carbonate nodules are few to common. III. The third stage includes coalesced nodules which occur in a friable or disseminated carbonate matrix. IV. The fourth stage includes platy, firmly cemented matrix which engulfs nodules; horizon is plugged to downward moving solutions. V. The fifth stage includes soils which are platy to tabular, dense, strongly cemented. A well-developed laminar layer occurs on the upper surface. VI. The sixth and most advanced stage is massive, multilaminar, and strongly cemented calcrete with abundant pisoliths, the upper surface of which may be brecciated. Pisoliths may indicate many generations of brecciation and reformation. In general calcic soils include stages I through III and are friable to moderately indurated; whereas pedogenic calcretes include stages IV through VI and are dense and strongly indurated. In a single pedon the morphologic stage of carbonate deposition decreases downward in the profile. The stage of development may be used in local regions for correlation and determination of relative ages of soils and geomorphic surfaces. Some structures observed in pedogenic calcretes may be present in other types of calcrete but the horizontal zonation typical of deposits of soil processes is absent. Laminar structure in particular is not restricted to pedogenic deposits and is common in many varieties of calcrete. Very little chemical change occurs in the noncalcareous nonclayey fractions of calcretes with age; but clay minerals within calcretes undergo a complex history of authigenesis. There is a depletion of magnesium in the calcareous portion and an enrichment of magnesium in the clayey portion of a calcrete with age. In keeping with this relationship, montmorillonite, or mixed layer montmorillonite-illite, is common in younger calcretes; whereas the high magnesium-silicate clays, sepiolite and palygorskite, are common in older calcretes. This indicates that the magnesium depleted from the carbonate is redistributed authigenically in clay minerals. The mobility of carbonate introduces many problems in attempts to date calcretes directly. Although the relative ages of soils within a province may be determined by quant

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Calcic soils and calcretes in the southwestern United States
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 77-794
DOI 10.3133/ofr77794
Edition -
Year Published 1977
Language ENGLISH
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey,
Description iv, 163 leaves :ill., maps ;29 cm.
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