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Isotopic Approach to Soil Carbonate Dynamics and Implications for Paleoclimatic Interpretations

  • Elise G. Pendall (a1), Jennifer W. Harden (a1), Sue E. Trumbore (a2) and Oliver A. Chadwick (a3)

The radiocarbon content and stable isotope composition of soil carbonate are best described by a dynamic system in which isotopic reequilibration occurs as a result of recurrent dissolution and reprecipitation. Depth of water penetration into the soil profile, as well as soil age, determines the degree of carbonate isotope reequilibration. We measured δ13C, δ18O and radiocarbon content of gravel rinds and fine (<2 mm) carbonate in soils of 3 .different ages (1000, 3800, and 6300 14 C yr B.P.) to assess the degree to which they record and preserve a climatic signal. In soils developing in deposits independently dated at 3800 and 6300 radiocarbon yr B.P., carbonate radiocarbon content above 40 cm depth suggests continual dissolution and reprecipitation, presumably due to frequent wetting events. Between 40 and 90 cm depth, fine carbonate is dissolved and precipitated as rinds that are not redissolved subsequently. Below 90 cm depth in these soils, radiocarbon content indicates that inherited, fine carbonate undergoes little dissolution and reprecipitation. In the 3800- and 6300-yr-old soils, δ13C in rind and fine carbonate follows a decreasing trend with depth, apparently in equilibrium with modern soil gas, as predicted by a diffusive model for soil CO2. δ18O also decreases with depth due to greater evaporative enrichment above 50 cm depth. In contrast, carbonate isotopes in a 1000-yr-old deposit do not reflect modern conditions even in surficial horizons; this soil has not undergone significant pedogenesis. There appears to be a lag of at least 1000 but less than 3800 yr before carbonate inherited with parent material is modified by ambient climatic conditions. Although small amounts of carbonate are inherited with the parent material, the rate of pedogenic carbonate accumulation indicates that Ca is derived primarily from eolian and rainfall sources. A model describing carbonate input and radiocarbon decay suggests that fine carbonate below 90 cm is mostly detrital (inherited) and that carbonate rinds have been forming pedogenically at a constant rate since alluvial fans were deposited.

Corresponding author
1 To whom correspondence should be addressed at the Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721.
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Quaternary Research
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