Modifications of 2:1 clay minerals in a kaolinite-dominated Ultisol under changing land-use regimes

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© 2018, Clay Minerals Society. All rights reserved. Chemical denudation and chemical weathering rates vary under climatic, bedrock, biotic, and topographic conditions. Constraints for landscape evolution models must consider changes in these factors on human and geologic time scales. Changes in nutrient dynamics, related to the storage and exchange of K+ in clay minerals as a response to land use change, can affect the rates of chemical weathering and denudation. Incorporation of these changes in landscape evolution models can add insight into how land use changes affect soil thickness and erodibility. In order to assess changes in soil clay mineralogy that result from land-use differences, the present study contrasts the clay mineral assemblages in three proximal sites that were managed differently over nearly the past two centuries where contemporary vegetation was dominated by old hardwood forest, old-field pine, and cultivated biomes. X-ray diffraction (XRD) of the oriented clay fraction using K-, Mg-, and Na-saturation treatments for the air-dried, ethylene glycol (Mg- EG and K-EG) solvated, and heated (100, 350, and 550ºC) states were used to characterize the clay mineral assemblages. XRD patterns of degraded biotite (oxidized Fe and expelled charge-compensating interlayer K) exhibited coherent scattering characteristics similar to illite. XRD patterns of the Mg-EG samples were, therefore, accurately modeled using NEWMOD2® software by the use of mineral structure files for discrete illite, vermiculite, kaolinite, mixed-layer kaolinite-smectite, illite-vermiculite, kaolinite-illite, and hydroxy-interlayered vermiculite. The soil and upper saprolite profiles that formed on a Neoproterozoic gneiss in the Calhoun Experimental Forest in South Carolina, USA, revealed a depth-dependence for the deeply weathered kaolinitic to the shallowly weathered illitic/vermiculitic mineral assemblages that varied in the cultivated, pine, and hardwood sites, respectively. An analysis of archived samples that were collected over a five-decade growth period from the pine site suggests that the content of illite-like layers increased at the surface within 8 y. Historical management of the sites has resulted in different states of dynamic equilibrium, whereby deep rooting at the hardwood and pine sites promotes nutrient uplift of K from the weathering of orthoclase and micas. Differences in the denudation rates at the cultivated, pine, and hardwood sites through time were reflected by changes in the soil clay mineralogy. Specifically, an increased abundance of illite-like layers in the surface soils can serve as a reservoir of K+.





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Austin, JC, A Perry, DD Richter and PA Schroeder (2018). Modifications of 2:1 clay minerals in a kaolinite-dominated Ultisol under changing land-use regimes. Clays and Clay Minerals, 66(1). pp. 61–73. 10.1346/CCMN.2017.064085 Retrieved from

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Daniel D. Richter

Professor in the Division of Earth and Climate Science

Richter’s research and teaching links soils with ecosystems and the wider environment, most recently Earth scientists’ Critical Zone.  He focuses on how humanity is transforming Earth’s soils from natural to human-natural systems, specifically how land-uses alter soil processes and properties on time scales of decades, centuries, and millennia.  Richter's book, Understanding Soil Change (Cambridge University Press), co-authored with his former PhD student Daniel Markewitz (Professor at University of Georgia), explores a legacy of soil change across the Southern Piedmont of North America, from the acidic soils of primary hardwood forests that covered the region until 1800, through the marked transformations affected by long-cultivated cotton, to contemporary soils of rapidly growing and intensively managed pine forests.  Richter and colleagues work to expand the concept of soil as the full biogeochemical weathering system of the Earth’s crust, ie, the Earth’s belowground Critical Zone, which can be tens of meters deep.  The research examines decadal to millennial changes in the chemistry and cycling of soil C, N, P, Ca, K, Mg, and trace elements B, Fe, Mn, Cu, Be, Zr, and Zn across full soil profiles as deep at 30-m.  Since 1988, Richter has worked at and directed the Long-Term Calhoun Soil-Ecosystem Experiment (LTSE) in the Piedmont of South Carolina, a collaborative study with the USDA Forest Service that quantifies how soils form as natural bodies and are transformed by human action, and a study that has grown to become an international model for such long-term soil and ecosystem studies.  In 2005, Richter and students initiated the first comprehensive international inventory project of the world’s LTSEs, using an advanced-format website that has networked metadata from 250 LTSEs.  The LTSEs project has held three workshops at Duke University, NCSU's Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and the USDA Forest Service's Calhoun Experimental Forest and Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, hosting representatives from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas.  Richter's 60-year old Long Term Calhoun Soil and Ecosystem Experiment is linked to similar experiments and platforms around the world via the ‘Long-Term Soil-Ecosystem Experiments Global Inventory’, assembled by Dan Richter, Pete Smith, and Mike Hofmockel."He is an active member of the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s Working Group on the Anthropocene.  Richter has written in the peer-reviewed literature about all of these projects, and in November 2014 his soils research at the Calhoun and his soils teaching were featured in Science magazine.

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