The vesicular layer and carbonate collars of desert soils and pavements: formation, age and relation to climate change

Leslie D. McFadden, Eric V. McDonald, Stephen G. Wells, Kirk Anderson, Jay Quade, Steven L. Forman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

174 Scopus citations


The vesicular, fine-grained A horizon (Av) is the widespread, ubiquitous surficial horizon of desert soils in diverse landforms and parent materials of varying ages. Now known to form mostly through accumulation of eolian dust, recent studies show that dust accumulation and concomitant soil development are genetically linked to stone pavement formation. Changes in the magnitude of eolian activity and effective leaching related to Quaternary climatic changes are also hypothesized to have influenced the evolution of the Av horizon. Numerical modeling, geochronologic, and field/laboratory studies elucidate the nature of pedogenic processes controlling compositional evolution of Av, how the changing Av horizon increasingly influences soil infiltration and carbonate translocation and accumulation, and the control that clasts of the evolving pavement exert on pedogenic processes. Results of a model that determines soil bulk chemical composition based on mixing of estimated proportions of externally derived (eolian) material and parent materials imply that the evolution of the soil bulk composition is strongly influenced by Av horizon formation. The early development of a weakly to moderately developed Av horizon directly over gravelly parent material in late and middle Holocene soils moderately influences soil infiltration, but significant leaching of very soluble materials and some carbonate in dust are permitted. In older, Pleistocene soils, however, the texturally more mature Av and underlying, cumulic nongravelly horizons more strongly limit the rate and depth of leaching, and soil bulk composition therefore more closely approximates a simple mixture of dust and parent material. Other aspects of Av horizon development and its relations to the pavement are evaluated through studies of pavement clasts with coatings of soil carbonate, referred to as carbonate collars. Development of a numberical model that integrates soil hydrology, a CO2 production-diffusion model, calcite kinetics and thermodynamic considerations, composition and thermal characteristics of pavement clasts and the textural and structural properties of the surface horizon provides the basis for testing a hypothesis of collar formation. Model results, combined with results of δ13C and δ18O analyses of collar carbonate, demonstrate how precipitation of calcite on pavement clasts and within the Av is favored at a depth much shallower than that indicated by the classic carbonate depth-climate relationship of previous workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-145
Number of pages45
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Aug 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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