351 - 359

Teris of Southern Tamil Nadu:

A Saga of Holocene Climate Change

THRIVIKRAMJI. K.P.I, JOSEPH, S< and ANIRUDHAN. S:\ 'Center for Environment & Development. Trivandrum 695 013 and 2Dept. of Environmental Science. & 'Dept. of Geology.

University of Kerala. Kariavttom Campus 695 583


The ubiquitous Ten deposits (extent=500 krn/) or red sands of semiarid-southerncoastal-Tamil Nadu. chiefly noticed to occur in the Kattabomman and Chidarnbaranar districts. show unique shades of red ranging from yellowish red (5YR4.5/6) to dark reddish brown (2.5YR 3;") and dark red (lOR 3/6). In aerial photos tens manifest in various morphological types. among which the commonest forms are sand dunes (shaped into barchans. barchanoids. and iongitudinal dunes). interdune sand sheets. sandy hummocks and sand sheets. Besides. teris can grouped into ITOs (inland teri deposits. area= 33.0 krn') and CTOs (coastal teri deposits. area = 437.0 km')

The teri sand fraction is easily divisible into frame work grains (viz .. allochthonous detritals like quartz of different types. subordinate feldspar altering to clay and a suite of heavy minerals) and a matrix of clay and quartz silt. Though cement. chiefly hematite. poorly manifests on grains due to partial induration. it appears on the negative relief features on grain surfaces. like cracks. depressions. corrosion pits etc

The autochthonous-calcareous-rhizoliths. chiefly noticed in Satt ankulam.

Kudiramoli and Sayarpuram teris. dominantly show a discordant relationship with primary sedimentary structures and morphologies (size. shape and sense of branching) reminiscent of calcified-roots. need a much warmer climate (like the current climate) for their formation.

The red colour and matrix of authigenic clays (viz .. kaolinite and illite in the fine fraction). products of pedogenic weathering. do strongly point to a wetter or humid climate which enables release of red pigment (or now hernat ite) by the chemical alteration (intrastratal solution) of iron bearing heavy minerals like the opaque ilmenite. red almandine-garnet and pyroxenes of the heavy fraction as well as authigenic formation of Clays from feldspar in the frame work grains and matrix.

A 14C date (3680+ or -110 BP) on a sample of rhizolith collected at a depth of 2.5 m. at Sattankulam sets a time line for the transition from a humid climate to the current semi-arid type when the calcareous rhizoliths originated. Hence. semi-



arid conditions like that of the present day in the Teri land of southern Tamil Nadu. should have set in at least as early as 3680+/-110y B.P.

Factors like morphology of teris. sediment colour. intra-stratal solution of metastable mineral particles. clay minerals in the matrix, and presence of authigenic rhizoliths of suggest a cyclic transition of climate: from semiarid to humid and to semiarid

Keywords: Teri deposits. Coastal - Tamil Nadu. Mineralogy. Paleo Climate.


The teris of southern coastal Tamil Nadu (area- -500 krn-). uniquely occurrlllg In the Kattabomman and Chidambaranr districts, were originally documented and designated by Foote (1883) as teri - a word Foote borrowed from Tamil language, wherein it meant a sloping terrain. According to the Munsell soil colour scheme, red color of Teri manifests in a variety of shades, i.e., yellowish red (SYR!4.S/6) to dark reddish brown (2.5YR %) and dark red (10YR 3/6). Pri ncipal occurrences of Teris are in Vadakkankulam, Panakudi. and Sattankulam in Kattabomman Dist., and Kudiramoll, Sayarpuram. Kulathur and Surankudi in Chidambaranar Dist. (Joseph, 1996). Menon (1950) after a study of the frame work mineralogy of the teris of south Travancore (an occurrence in the Kanyakurnar. Dist of Tamil Nadu), proposed a bipartite classification, viz.. the fixed Teris and the moving Teris, which is quite apt for the deposits under scrutiny now.

For workers like Zeuber and Allchin (1956), the potential archaeological signature in the teris was the topic of inquiry. Gradner (1981) on the other hand, examined the teris from the point of view of origin of colour as well as its causative factors. The AMD( Atomic Mineral Directorate), Government of India focused on the reserve of monazite and other heavy minerals of this extensive granular sheets and dunes of red sand and especially that of the Kudiramol i teri. I n fact, comparable poorly Indurated sedimentary deposits (similar to Teris). occurring In the coastal Andhra Pradesh were examined by Rao (1978). and Pridhviraju et al (1985) Joseph (1996) and Joseph et ai, (1997) examined the various aspects of teris like, morphology and field relations, frame work mineralogy, geochemistry, clay mineralogy and grain surface textures.


The distinctly coloured red sediments or their indurated equivalents the red beds, have fostered the classic idea that colour was the result of a "single discrete phenomenon controlled by a single assemblage of cond it ions" (Dawson, 1848; Crossby. 1885; and Barrel, 1908). Krynine (1950) suggested that sediments forming redbeds came off a terrain rich in older red beds or red soils, implicating the role of source sediments to the colour. But van Houten (1961) attributed the red colour to the process of diagenesis i.e.. dehydration (warmer temperatures) of brown or drab ferric hydroxides (dominantly noticed as goethite, FeO-OH and limonite -amorphous ferric hydroxide) in the parent sediment to hematite. This dehydration phenomenon is a charactertstic of pedogenesiS taking place


in the desert environments and alluvial flood plains. This transformation of goethite to hematite can take place in the absence of water or at elevated temperatures (Berner. 1969)a5 gwen below:

FeOOH (goethite) ~ Fep3 (hematite) + H20

ThereFore, the red colour of sedi ment is a 'robust' indicator of climate that prevailed at the time of diaqsneti c or pedogenic transformation and temperature and moisture or precipitation level are the cardinal parameters of climate In the geological context In other words, there exists a strong climate -colour couple.

In this paper. the attributes of teris like frame work minerals, mineralogy of matrix, clay mineralogy, chemical composition of sediment, cutan occurring on the minerai particles and the aspects of the associated rhizolithic calcrete are assessed to build indicators of paleo-c I imate and I ts progression through time



Analysis of IMD (Indian Mateoroloqical Department) weather data for 1969 to 1989, (for stations at Pa layamkotta and Tuticorin), indicates that the teri provi nce of Tamil Nadu enjoys a semi-arid cl irnate. in the scheme ofTrevartha (1954). A summary of weather data shows an annual average rainfall of -700 mm, and an annual average minimum and maximum temperatures of 19"C and 410 C (averaged between 1969 and 1989) Averages of relative humidities range between 75% and 49%.


A picture of the extent. morphology and related features of teris were gathered from the aerial photos (see Table 1) .Teri deposits are noticed to occur at differing elevations Conspicuously the I TDs (I nland Teri Deposits), occurring at higher elevations than the CTDs (Coastal Ten Deposits), extend from the foothi 115 of Kalakkad range (i .e., the east facing scarp of Sahyadris) to 15 km away from the modern shoreline to the SE and are leaner In aerial extent (=33 krn") The Cl'Ds. on the other hand, are more detached or segmented by numerous ephemeral stream channels and consequent wasti ng due to lateral erosion and transport. But for the Sattankulam teri,juxtaposed with the modern shoreline, others are set as far inland as 6-8 km., from the shore, while the intervening area IS covered with modern beach and backshore dune fields and/or sheet sand. From the airphotos, barchans, barchanoids, transverse dunes With blowouts, and sand sheets have been mapped In the ClDs, VIZ., Kud iramol i and Sattankulam tens (Joseph. 1996).

Several. Irrigation well sections were closely examined to gather a picture of the I itholog ic succession in the teri land. Well-wall-logs indicate that in the shoreward direction, teris either rest on crystalline basement (eg., Kulathur, N.Lat.9°001 T & E Long. 78"11"58' ), or on younger calcareous sandstone (e.q. ,Melmand i, N Lat 9"0444" &E Long 78°17"50-) or on a fossi liferous I imestone (e.g., Meyyur, N. Lat. 8°24 & E. Long. 77°591 T).



Table 1. Aerial extent and elevation of Tens. Southern Coastal Tamil Nadu (Thrivikramji and Anirudhan, 1993)

Teri Area. km2 Av. Elevation. arnsl, m
Inland Teri deposits. lTD
Vadakkankulam 11.0 90
Panakkudi 22.0 135
Coastal Teri deposits, CTD
Sattankulam 313.0 35
Kudiramoli 59.0 40
Sayarpuram 17.0 4,0
Kulathur 7.0 10
Surankudi 75.0 7.0 In the sections, primary sedimentary structures were very difficult to discern, perhaps an outcome of pedogenesis (i .e., release and redtstri bution pigment forming goethite and limonite as well as clay particles originating from the chemical alteration of feldspar), which transformed the parent sediment to teris. Tens show a variable thickness from deposit to deposit, or a wide range of thickness. i.e., 1.0 m. at Sattankulam to over 12.0 m. at Ovari (Joseph, 1996),


Framework minerals

In order to get an average picture of minerai proportions In teris, at least 42,300 grains in 143 fractions of medium, fine and very fine sand categories in a set of 28 samples were visited with a microscope Average minera I assemblage of I TDs is dominated by quartz (=55.5%), followed by feldspar (32.7%), opaques (4.84%), si II imanite (2.4%) and garnet (1.37%). Minerals like zircon, rutile, monazite, pyriboles and biotite are present only in <1% each (combined ave.=l 21%). Alterite content is 1.87%.

In contrast. the CTDs in general, are enriched with relatively significant content of opaques and very subordinate amounts feldspar. Mineral assemblage data (i .e., averages of medium, fine and very fine fractions) show 76.16% quartz, 11.7% opaques, 6.15% feldspar. Other minerals I ike zircon, ruti Ie, monazite, and garnet are present under 1 % each. Pyriboles (0.07%) and biotite (0.02) are noticed only in trace amounts.

Matrix clay fraction

All the teris had strong presence of Clays in the matrix, but the quantities are variable.

Representative samples (i.e., 10 oriented clay films of teri clay). when subjected to IR, FTIR and XRD analysis. Kaolinite emerged as the dominant clay phase, followed by illite.


I TDs, showed comparatively large content of Kaoli nite (range = 74.5 to 76 5%) and much lower ill ite (range = 23.5 to 25.5%) A simi lar picture with subordi nate clay content was true with the CTDs (Kaolinite = 69.0 to 76.2%; Illite = 23.8 to 31.0%). A closer examination of the charts pointed to a higher state of crystallinity of clays indicating in situ origin and lack of transport. I Rand FTI R spectral data for a set of seven samples of matrix clay of Teris showed absorption bands of hematite, the cutan of teri sediment. I n some samples, goethite is indicated (Joseph, 1996).

Cause of Colour

Several sub-samples of heavy fraction (in the fine and very fine sands) of Ter is were scrun nized under the microscope to chart the species variabi lity and abundances, Within and among the teris. The data underscored the scarcity of garnet Its highly corroded aspect when present, presence of altered pyr iboles. and opaques. This aspect of heavy minerals, especially that of garnet is highly instructive of the role of intra-stratal solution, release of cutan and hence the pigmentation of parent sediment of teris. Walker (1967) and Pye, (1981) argued that intra-stratal origin of red pigment, its rate of formation and preservation are controlled by the nature and type of Fe-bearlJ1g minerals, interstitial oxidizing environment, moisture content and higher temperature


A batch of representative samples of teris was analyzed to determine the rnajor oxide composition to enable further analysis using the empirical indicators of level of chemical weathering. One such index is CI A (Chemical I ndex of Alteration) devised by Nesbit and Young (1982), which is used to rate the level of chemical weathering of sediments and sedimentary rocks. By definition, CIA is the ratio of [AIZO] I (AlP:> + CaO + K,O -I- Nap)], where units are moles per 100 gm and the CaO is the si licate and not carbonate supplied. Highest value CIA attains is unity (for kaolinite or pyrophyllite);, while the unweathered crystalline rocks show values <0.5.

The average CIA values shows that the parent sediment of subordinate ITDs like Panakkudi (CIA=O.3) and Vadakkankulam (CIA=O.5), underwent only a lower degree of chemical weathering, where as the average of estimated CIA (sample= 19) of 0.62 for CTDs, suggests a high degree of chemical alteration. In fact chemical alteration is nearly unfeasible in the present day semi-arid environment of the ten lands of Tamil Nadu Further, ITDs show lower total Fe (7 97%) compared to CTDs (av = 12.63%).


The type of calcrete noticed in the teris is the rhizolith!c calcrete III the vadose zone of CTDs (e.q., at Sayarpuram and Sattankulam) placing it apart from the ITDs. Klappa (1980) defined rhizoliths as "organosedimentary structures produced in roots by accumulation and lor cementation around, within or replacement of higher plant roots



by mineral matter." Later, Esteban and Ktappa (1983) suggested five categones of rhizol iths, viz.. a root molds, b. root casts, c. root tubules, d. rhizoconcretions and e. root petrifactions. I n fact. the rhizoliths of CTOs are very much simi lar to rh lzoconcretions.

These are I ike short sticks, some what crooked or knotted, and roughly tubular to nearly oval across. As the reddish brown stumps stick out by 2.0 or 3.0 ern. above tile ground nearly vertically and prominently in tile exposures, such patches are visible even from distances of say 10.0 or 15.0 m. Sticks have a fine-qritty-skin coated with reddish brown Clay and a porous core, Sticks do branch downward at tight acute angles into leaner ones compare to the main. Though rhizol ith reminds one of a calciFied arenaceous fill in a mold of plant root. the root anatomy is demonstrably absent as these are later "cavity fillings" after the plant roots of the past

Textural and mineralogical studies show that these rhizol iths contain a framework of notable amounts of acid insoluble detrital sand (essentially quartz and mi nor opaques) in a matrix of carbonate - micrite (identified as calcite by XRDA) and subsidiary amounts of mud (mixture of kaolinite and goethite In XRDA) _ Petrography reveals that detritals are embedded in micrite cement manifesting as rim, vein and blocky fabric. Further, tloatinq. alveolar and clotting textures are also noticed. The carbonate cement was presumably aggregated from the host wh ich existed as fragments of calcareous shells and tests of marine invertebrates common in coastal dunes.

The pedogenesis of host ten sands hade released Ca2' ions and were later deposited in the root cavities after death and decay of the tissues of roots. The absence of root anatomy is a characteristic Feature of these rhizol iths. A sample of rhizolith collected at Sattankulam at a depth of 2.Sm. gives a 14C age of 3680,+or-110 years B.P. Hence, semiarid conditions of the present day in the Ten tract of southern Tamil Nadu, should have set in at least as long ago as 3680+/ -110y B. P.


Deriving paleo-climate Signatures of sediments and sedimentary rocks, though very exciting, is wrought with hazards. Post depositional transformations, like chanqes in pore volume, nature of cirtulatl ng waters, depth burial and diagentic changes as well as subaerial weathering on emergence from the basin may alter to varying degrees the acuity of the Signature. However, With respect to geologically younger rocks or sediments, the task is far easier, in that degree of obi iteration of evidences IS neither strong nor varied resulting in retention of or only partial modification of several original characteristics and attributes. In that respect the teris are no exception.

Several factors of the teris, like the morphology of teris (especially the CTOs) , framework and assemblages of framework and matrix minerals, geochemistry and indicators like CIA and state of Fe, presence of calcareous rhizoliths and radio carbon age etc need to be carefully examined, while attempting to reconstruct the paleoclimate of the teri land. c makeup of are the cardinal aspects that need closer exami nation before inferences can be drawn on the pattern of climate shift in the teri land

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The evidences, viz, barcharts. barchanoids and inter dune sand sheets, gathered from photo-geomorphologic studies of teri-Iand, especially the eTOs, (more than 90% of the total) strongly indicate a drier and windier climate favouring the landward transport of granular drier sand from the newly emerged and exposed shelf as a result of lower sealevel stand in the pre-Holocene.

The sediment colour is largely controlled by the state of OXidation of element Fe, which exists in the ferromagnesial minerals, garnet. and also In the opaques I ike Ilmenite and magnetite. Among these ferromagnesians and almandine garnet are evidently less stable during chemical weathermg (as evidenced by pyriboles and corroded garnet) - a hallmark of humid and warm climate as opposed to the present semi and-climate of the regionand so are the the estimated CIA values (up ward of 0.5) of the CTOs.

I n addition, the strong presence of rhizolithic calcrete in the CTOs and their age formation are points that need careful consideration In this context. Formation of calcrete IS favoured only in warm and hot climate. Accordinq to Wright (1994) rhizoliths and other types of calcrete are characteristic of arid and semi arid climates and IS generally found I n Quaternary and older sediments. I n order to form I n situ. calcrete needs a source of calcium (calcareous shell fragments or Shells etc.) in the host sedi ment, optimal moisture laden With C02 to dissolve calcium carbonate and a capillary fringe to enable transport to new lOCI (and In the case of rhizoliths of CTOs a decayinq or dying root system) and dryness to enable fast evaporat Ion leadi ng to oeposition of micnuc calcite Therefore, radiometric age of 3680 +/ - 110 on sample of rhizol ith collected from Sattankulam is an ind icator of dawn of the modern semi -arid climate In the terl land.


The Teris of southern coastal Tamil Nadu, III south India is a unique occurrence of redsands embedded with Signatures of paleo-climate

a. The initial semi-arid phase: eTOs, moulded Into dunes (viz., barcharts. barchanotds.. transverse dunes) and inter-dune sheet sands, call for a set of pre-requisites like, a vast reservoir of dry sand, a prevailing windjuxtaposed'to a sink of vast featureless terrain sans vegetation. The late Pleistocene (LGM) lower sea level stand at 18,000 YBP and associated aridity, shall expose a vast reservoir of shelf sand in the SE, and the essential Wind regimen required for the formation of the coastal dune filed - tile pro-Cllls.

b. The mterverunq humid phase CTOs now show a robust presence of hematite and kaolinite alongside altered feldspar, corroded almandine garnet and pyriboles, The CIA values. 'estimated from the major chemical composition of samples, are upward of 0.5. Such

intrastratal mineral transformations and high CIA values can result only under a humid and wet climate - clear departure from the initial aridity. However, the hematite of teris did not perhaps form during the wet humid climate, instead what originated then were goethite and limonite - the hydrated phases of element iron.



c. The rrnzouthrc calcrete: Other Important attributes of CTOs of Sayarpuram and Sattankulam are the ubiquitous occurrence of calcareous rh izol iths and the impressive dark reddish brown (2.5 Y IR %) and dark red (lOR 3/6) colours, caused by irregu lar or non-uniform coating of hematite on frame work grains and the matrix clay or silt, which are the overarching evidences for the return of semi-aridity in the southern coastal Tamil Nadu. Only in a hot arid climate most of the goethite and limonite are dehydrated to hematite. Further, the 14C age of 3680+1-110 YBP for a sample of rhizolithic calcrete underscores the time line for reappearance of semi-arid climate in this part of India.

Therefore, the CTOs, with varyi ng hues of red, and monotonously extensive (area of ITOs ~ 33.0 km2) coverage, I n southern coastal Tamil Nadu is a witness to climate transitions since the late Pleistocene, i.e., from semi-arid to humid and to semiarid. Hence, the semiarid climate now enjoyed by the southern coastal Tamil Nadu, is only three and half rnillenn ia old phenomenon.


We (TKP and SA) thank the DST, Government of India, for generously supporting this project and CSIR for the offer of a PDF (to JS) to continue the investigations on the rhizolithic calcrete. T. Radhakrishna and Narayanaswamy extended an Invitation to participate in the Trivandrum Symposium (at CESS) in connection with the Golden Jubilee of the Geolog ical Society of I ndia, and for ed iti ng an earlier version of this paper.


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