Why parent material is so important
The nature of the soil’s parent material influences soils profoundly.
First, it influences soil characteristics. Soil texture is determined by a soil’s parent material. A soil might inherit a sandy texture from coarse-grained, quartz-rich parent material such as granite or sandstone. This texture, in turn, influences the movement, or percolation, of water through the soil, affecting the translocation of fine soil particles and plant nutrients. Second, the chemical and mineralogical character of the parent material influences both the chemical weathering and the natural vegetation that can grow/thrive on a specific soil type. The presence of limestone, for example, will delay the development of acidity in a soil. The trees growing on such soils will also produce leaf litter that is relatively high in calcium, further delaying the process of acidification in a soil. Third, the parent material influences the type and quantity of clays produced. The parent material may contain varying amounts and types of clay minerals, produced likely from previous weathering cycles. And the type of parent material will greatly influence the types of clays that can develop as the soils mature.
Classes of Bedrock
There are three classes of rock:
Igneous Sedimentary Metamorphic
Igneous rocks are formed from molten magma
These include such common rocks as granite and diorite.
These rocks contain such primary materials as light-coloured quartz, muscovite and feldspars, and dark-coloured biotite, augite and hornblende. The darker-coloured rocks contain iron and magnesium and more easily weather. The mineral grains in igneous rocks are randomly dispersed and interlocked, producing a salt and pepper look.
Sedimentary rocks are formed from sediment or weathered old rock.
These rocks form as sediment piles higher and higher, building up pressure below eventually cementing the sediment into rock. The cementing agent and dominant minerals in a sedimentary rock determines its susceptibility to weathering. Sand becomes sandstone. Clays become shale. Calcite becomes limestone. Dolomite becomes of dolomite rock. Sedimentary rocks formed from mixtures of these minerals are called conglomerates. Sedimentary rocks are the most common globally, accounting for 75% of the Earth’s land surface. In Canada, we hold a sizeable area if igneous rocks – the Canadian Shield.
Metamorphic rocks are igneous or sedimentary rocks that have been changed
by pressure and heat. A high degree of metamorphism can physically weaken the rock mass, permitting faster weathering. Both limestone and dolomite will transform into marble. Sandstone transforms into quartzite. Shale transforms into slate. Conglomerates transform into either gneiss or schist
Rocks are broken down into ever-finer particles by weathering. Rocks are broken down in two fashions: by physical disintegration and decomposition. These are achieved through two forms of weathering: o Physical weather – that leads to disintegration of rock o Chemical breakdown – that leads to decomposition
Physical weathering is achieved in three ways.
Abrasion by water, ice, and wind – Water loaded with sediment can also cut through rock, consider the Grand Canyon of Three Gorges in China or any river that runs through a gorge, a ravine, or valley of any size and depth. Windblown dust and sand will also wear down exposed rock by abrasion. Ice similar can wear down rock, especially if it holds mineral material that acts like sandpaper on wood. Plants and animals – Plant roots often enter cracks and pry them apart. Burrowing animals also contribute to the disintegration of rock. The impact of plants and animals, however, is very small. Temperature – some minerals expand more than others when heated. Therefore, temperature change creates differentiated pressure within rocks that eventually cause them to crack apart. The outer surface of a rock is often warmer or colder than the inner, more protected parts. This leads to exfoliation – or the outer
part of the rock peeling away from the inner parts. This process accelerates when ice is produced .Water can seep into the cracks found in rocks and in temperate or colder environment freeze. When it freezes, the water expands, placing pressure on the rock, breaking it apart.
While physical weathering is most intense in regions where the climate is dry and cool, chemical weathering is most intense in regions where the weather is dry and hot. [However it is important to note that both forms of weathering occur everywhere.] Chemical weathering is enhanced by the presence of water, oxygen, and the organic and inorganic acids resulting from biochemical activity.
There are six types of chemical weathering
Hydration – Intact water molecules (H2O) can bind minerals through hydration o An example is hemadite into ferrhydrite [page 34] Hydrolysis – Here, water molecules split into their hydrogen [H+] and hydroxyl [OH-] components. The hydrogen replaces a cation from a mineral structure. o An example is the action of water on microcline, a potassiumcontaining feldspar. Through hydrolysis, the potassium released is soluble and is available for absorption by soil colloids, uptake by plants or removal in drainage water. The silicic acid that is also produced is soluble as well that can be removed from the soil also by draining water or be recombined with other compounds to form secondary minerals such as silicate clays. Dissolution – Water can dissolve certain minerals by hydrating the cations and anions. o Gypsum is an example of this.
Carbonation and other acid reactions – Weathering is accelerated by the presence of acids that increase the activity of hydrogen ions in the soil’s water. Oxidation reduction – certain minerals (those that contain iron, manganese and sulphur) are especially susceptible to oxidation reduction. o For example, iron in rocks exposed to air and water during soil formation, oxidizes (loses an electron). Complexation – Soil biological processes produce organic acids such as oxalic, citric and tartaric acids, and larger fulvic and humic acid molecules. o These play an important role in chemical weathering transforming mineral materials into other matter and making essential plant nutrients available to plants. o Had there been no living organisms on Earth, the chemical weathering processes would have proceeded 1000 times more slowly and little – if any – soil would have been created. Integrated Process – Once again we must remind ourselves that these processes are all occurring simultaneously and are interdependent.