Iron nodules in ferric soils of the Fraser Coast, Australia: Relicts of laterisation or features of contemporary weathering and pedogenesis?

S. C. Löhr*, M. Grigorescu, M. E. Cox

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The genesis of ferruginous nodules and pisoliths in soils and weathering profiles of coastal southern and eastern Australia has long been debated. It is not clear whether iron (Fe) nodules are redox accumulations, residues of Miocene laterite duricrust, or the products of contemporary weathering of Fe-rich sedimentary rocks. This study combines a catchment-wide survey of Fe nodule distribution in Poona Creek catchment (Fraser Coast, Queensland) with detailed investigations of a representative ferric soil profile to show that Fe nodules are derived from Fe-rich sandstones. Where these crop out, they are broken down, transported downslope by colluvial processes, and redeposited. Chemical and physical weathering transforms these eroded rock fragments into non-magnetic Fe nodules. Major features of this transformation include lower hematite/goethite and kaolinite/gibbsite ratios, increased porosity, etching of quartz grains, and development of rounded morphology and a smooth outer cortex. Iron nodules are commonly concentrated in ferric horizons. We show that these horizons form as the result of differential biological mixing of the soil. Bioturbation gradually buries nodules and rock fragments deposited at the surface of the soil, resulting in a largely nodule-free 'biomantle' over a ferric 'stone line'. Maghemite-rich magnetic nodules are a prominent feature of the upper half of the profile. These are most likely formed by the thermal alteration of non-magnetic nodules located at the top of the profile during severe bushfires. They are subsequently redistributed through the soil profile by bioturbation. Iron nodules occurring in the study area are products of contemporary weathering of Fe-rich rock units. They are not laterite duricrust residues nor are they redox accumulations, although redox-controlled dissolution/re-precipitation is an important component of post-depositional modification of these Fe nodules.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-93
Number of pages17
JournalSoil Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • bioturbation
  • ferric horizoniron nodule
  • iron oxide
  • iron pisolith
  • laterite
  • maghemite
  • weathering.


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