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Atmospheric dust in modern soil on aeolian sandstone, Colorado Plateau (USA): Variation with landscape position and contribution to potential plant nutrients

January 1, 2006

Rock-derived nutrients in soils originate from both local bedrock and atmospheric dust, including dust from far-distant sources. Distinction between fine particles derived from local bedrock and from dust provides better understanding of the landscape-scale distribution and abundance of soil nutrients. Sandy surficial deposits over dominantly sandstone substrates, covering vast upland areas of the central Colorado Plateau, typically contain 5-40% silt plus clay, depending on geomorphic setting and slope (excluding drainages and depressions). Aeolian dust in these deposits is indicated by the presence of titanium-bearing magnetite grains that are absent in the sedimentary rocks of the region. Thus, contents of far-traveled aeolian dust can be estimated from magnetic properties that primarily reflect magnetite content, such as isothermal remanent magnetization (IRM). Isothermal remanent magnetization was measured on bulk sediment samples taken along two transects in surficial sediment down gentle slopes away from sandstone headwalls. One transect was in undisturbed surficial sediment, the other in a setting that was grazed by domestic livestock until 1974. Calculation of far-traveled dust contents of the surficial deposits is based on measurements of the magnetic properties of rock, surficial deposits, and modern dust using a binary mixing model. At the undisturbed site, IRM-based calculations show a systematic down-slope increase in aeolian dust (ranging from 2% to 18% of the surface soil mass), similar to the down-slope increase in total fines (18-39% of surface soil mass). A combination of winnowing by wind during the past and down-slope movement of sediment likely accounts for the modern distribution of aeolian dust and associated nutrients. At the previously grazed site, dust also increases down slope (5-11%) in sediment with corresponding abundances of 13-25% fines. Estimates of the contributions of aeolian dust to the total soil nutrients range widely, depending on assumptions about grain-size partitioning of potential nutrients in weathered bedrock. Nevertheless, aeolian dust is important for this setting, contributing roughly 40-80% of the rock-derived nutrient stocks (P, K, Na, Mn, Zn, and Fe) in uppermost soil over most of the sampled slope at the undisturbed site, which shows no evidence of recent wind erosion. 

Publication Year 2006
Title Atmospheric dust in modern soil on aeolian sandstone, Colorado Plateau (USA): Variation with landscape position and contribution to potential plant nutrients
DOI 10.1016/j.geoderma.2005.01.012
Authors Richard L. Reynolds, J. Neff, Marith C. Reheis, Paul J. Lamothe
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geoderma
Index ID 70030841
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center