Geochemical and mineralogical characterisation of Vaalputs palaeosols : inference of paleoclimates

Majodina, Thando Olwethu (2013-03)

Thesis (MSc)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Vaalputs radioactive waste disposal facility is situated in an arid region of Bushmanland currently with evapotranspiration potential that far exceeds precipitation. Dominant soil features in Vaalputs are palimpsests of climates under which they formed. Particle sizes vary drastically between horizons which suggest different modes of sediment transport. Petrographic analyses revealed euhedral habits of primary mineral feldspar within the soils of Vaalputs. This suggests a proximal source of sediments and minimal primary mineral weathering under an arid climate where euhedral grains of feldspar are maintained. The surface horizon of the soils is covered by an equigranular coarse sand of residual aeolian origin. The transition from the surface horizon to the subsurface horizons is widely marked by a pebble sized stone-line. The pebble sized material of the stone-line suggests residual accumulation during the weathering of a previously surface exposed horizon. Since deposition of subsurface sediments (15 Ma) pedogenic alteration has been active in Vaalputs. This has resulted to a complex soil system which displays varied forms of thick dorbank horizons including massive polygonal peds and platy horizons. The polygonal peds are defined by desiccation cracks where vertical and horizontal laminations are hosted. Slaking tests as well as bulk chemistry confirmed that the laminations are composed largely of secondary calcite, however elemental mapping revealed numerous illite bands alternating with calcite layers. It is proposed that calcite layers represent solution features rather than cutanic features. Signs of hydromorphy are commonly observed within the dorbank horizons, since an arid climate currently prevails in Vaalputs such hydromorphic features may indicate formation under past climates. The occurrences of palygorskite, sepiolite and dorbank horizons in Vaalputs require high soil pH (generated by high concentrations of Na) for their formation. Vaalputs soils, however, measured circumneutral pH and relatively low Na concentrations which suggests that palygorskite, sepiolite and dorbank horizons are relic features. Salt casts of lenticular texture occur between polygonal peds of massive dorbank horizons and their enveloping vertical and horizontal laminations. Scanning Electron Microscope analyses indicate high concentrations of Mg, Al, Si and O which suggests sepiolite and palygorskite accumulation through a replacement of gypsum. Elemental maps in conjunction with x-ray tomography and bulk chemical analyses revealed that high concentrations of secondary barite occur along the contact surfaces between dorbank horizons and the laminations. The solution chemistry of all horizons show supersaturation with respect to barite suggesting that the Ba accumulation adjacent to the laminations is likely to have taken place at lower sulphate conditions than those present in the soils today. Evidence shows that Vaalputs soils have experienced at least one climate shift. The preserved soil mottles are indicative of soil environments that remain wet for an extended period. A fine textured platy dorbank horizon is an extensive feature in Vaalputs. The presence of this horizon indicates that the sediments were deposited from a low energy fluvial system. The large polygonal ped units in the lower dorbank units as well as the barite enrichments in pore spaces suggests a climate shift from wet to dry began after the sediments were deposited.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Vaalputs radioaktiewe afval fasiliteit is geleë in 'n ariede streek van Namakwaland met evapotranspirasie potensiaal wat neerslag tans ver oorskry. Dominante grond funksies in Vaalputs sluit in 'palimpsests‘ klimaat kondisies waaronder dit gevorm het. Deeltjies groottes wissel drasties tussen horisonne wat op verskillende vorme van sediment vervoer dui. Die oppervlak in Vaalputs word gedek deur 'n gelyke korrelagtige growwe sand van residuele eoliese oorsprong. Die oorgang vanaf die oppervlak horison na die ondergrondse horisonne word algemeen gekenmerk deur 'n spoelsteen grootte kliplyn. Die spoelsteen grootte materiaal van die kliplyn dui op residuele opbou gedurende die verwering van 'n voormalige oppervlak blootgestelde horison. Sedert afsetting van die ondergrondse sedimente (15 Mj) is pedogenetiese veranderinge reeds aktief in Vaalputs. Dit het gelei tot 'n komplekse grond stelsel wat verskillende vorme van dik dorbank horisonne insluitend massiewe veelhoekige pedons en plaatagtige horisonne vertoon. Die veelhoekige pedons word gedefinieer deur uitgedroogde krake waar die vertikale en horisontale lamellering aangetref word. Ontbindingstoetse sowel as heelrots chemiese analiese bevestig dat die lamellering grootliks bestaan uit 'n sekondêre kalsiet. Elementele kartering het egter talle illiet bande afgewissel met kalsiet lae openbaar. Daar word voorgestel dat kalsiet lae verteenwoordigend van oplossingskenmerke is eerder as kuntanise kenmerke. Tekens van hidromorfie word algemeen binne die dorbank horisonne waargeneem, aangesien droë klimaat tans in Vaalputs heers kan sulke hidromorfiese kenmerke dui op die vorming onder vorige klimate. Die groot voorkomste van paligorskiet, sepioliet en dorbank horisonne in Vaalputs vereis hoë grond pH (wat gegenereer word deur hoë konsentrasies van Na) vir hul vorming. Vaalputs grond het egter relatief neutrale pH gemeet en relatief lae Na konsentrasies wat daarop dui dat paligorskiet, sepioliet en dorbank horisonne oorblyfsel kenmerke is. Sout gietforme met lentikulare texture kom voor tussen veelhoekige pedons van massieve dorbank horisonne en hul omhullende vertikale en horisontale lamellerings. SEM analiese toon hoe konsentrasies Mg, Al, Si en O aan wat opbou van sepioliet en paligorskiet deur verplasing van gips voorstel. Petrografiese analiese het euhedraal geaardheid van primere veldspaat mineraal getoon binne die grond van Vaalputs. Dit stel 'n bron van sediment voor en minimale pedogenese in dorre klimaat waar euhedraal korrels veldspate bewaar bly. Elementele kartering tesame met x-straal tomografie en heelrots chemiese analiese het getoon dat hoe konsetrasies sekondere bariet langs die kontak oppervlakke tussen dorbank horisonne en lamellerings voorkom. Die oplossingschemie van alle horisonne toon superversadiging met betrekking tot bariet wat voorstel dat die opbou van Ba langs die lamellerings waarskynlik plaasgevind het by laer sulfaat kondisies eerder as die kondisies wat heedendaags in grond voorkom. Bewyse toon dat Vaalputs grond ten minste een klimaatsverandering ondergaan het. Die gepreserveerde grond vlekke is kenmerkend aan grond omgewings wat vogtig gebly het vir 'n geruime tyd. 'n Fyn getekstuurde plaatagtige dorbank horison is 'n uitgebreide verskynsel in Vaalputs. Die teenwoordiheid van hierdie dorbank toon aan dat sedimente vanuit 'n lae energie fluviale sisteem afgeset het. Die groot veelhoekige pedon eenhede in die laer dorbank eenhede sowel as die bariet verryking in porie spasies stel voor dat 'n klimaatsverandering vanaf vogtig na droog begin het nadat die sediment afgeset het.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/80239
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