Soil formation rates determined from Uranium-series isotope disequilibria in soil profiles from the southeastern Australian highlands

P. O. Suresh*, A. Dosseto, P. P. Hesse, H. K. Handley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Citations (Scopus)


The sustainability of soil resources is determined by the balance between the rates of production and removal of soils. Samples from four weathering profiles at Frogs Hollow in the upper catchment area of the Murrumbidgee River (southeastern Australia) were analyzed for their uranium-series (U-series) isotopic composition to estimate soil production rates. Sequential leaching was conducted on sample aliquots to assess how U-series nuclides are distributed between primary and secondary minerals. Soil is increasingly weathered from bottom to top which is evident from the decrease in (234U/238U) ratios and increase in relative quartz content with decreasing soil depth. One soil profile shows little variation in mineralogy and U-series geochemistry with depth, explained by the occurrence of already extensively weathered saprolite, so that further weathering has minimal effect on mineralogy and geochemistry. Al2O3 is mobilized from these soils, and hence a silicon-based weathering index treating Al2O3 as mobile is introduced, which increases with decreasing soil depth, in all profiles. Leached and unleached aliquots show similar mineralogy with slight variation in relative concentrations, whereas the elemental and isotopic composition of uranium and thorium show notable differences between leached and unleached samples. Unleached samples show systematic variations in uranium-series isotopic compositions with depth compared to leached samples. This is most likely explained by the mobilization of U and Th from the samples during leaching. Soil residence times are calculated by modeling U-series activity ratios for each profile separately. Inferred timescales vary up to 30 kyr for unleached aliquots from profile F1 to up to 12 kyr for both leached and unleached aliquots from profile F2. Muscovite content shows a linear relationship with U-series derived soil residence times. This relationship provides an alternative method to estimate residence timescales for profiles with significant U-series data scatter. Using this alternative approach, inferred soil residence times up to 33 kyr for leached samples of profile F1 and up to 34 kyr for leached samples of profile F3 were determined. A linear relationship between soil residence times and WIS (Si-based Weathering Index) exists and is used to estimate soil residence times for profile F3 (up to 28 kyr) and F4 (up to 37 kyr). The linear relationship between soil depth and calculated residence time allows determination of soil production rates, which range from 10 to 24 mm/kyr and are comparable to the rates determined previously using cosmogenic isotopes at the same site (Heimsath et al., 2001b). This implies that at this site, on the highland plateau of southeastern Australia, soil thickness has reached steady-state, possibly as a result of stable tectonic conditions but despite variable climatic conditions over the timescale of soil development. Soil-mantled landscapes are the geomorphic expression of this balance between soil production and denudation, and our results show that in tectonically quiescent regions, this landscape can be achieved in less than 30 kyr.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-37
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2013

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