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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Booneville, Arkansas » Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #346692

Title: Evidence for a naturally occurring post-glacial acid sulfate weathering event in northwestern Indiana, USA

item SCHULZE, D - Purdue University
item LANDIN, N - Purdue University
item Owens, Phillip
item CAMBERATO, J - Purdue University

Submitted to: Geoderma
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/15/2017
Publication Date: 12/15/2017
Citation: Schulze, D.G., Landin, N.C., Owens, P.R., Camberato, J.J. 2017. Evidence for a naturally occurring post-glacial acid sulfate weathering event in northwestern Indiana, USA. Geoderma. 308:341-349.

Interpretive Summary: Soil in Northern Indiana are acid while the majority of the soils have high pH's. THe process that led to low pH soils was found to be acid sulfate weathering which is a natural process. This acid sulfate weathering occuring following glacier melting and is found on sandy soils that contained high amounts of acid rich shale. Once the shale was exposed at the surface, oxygen caused the shale to oxidize producing sulfic acid and iron oxides. These acid soils requiring liming to become agriculturally productive. Understanding this process helps with management of these unique soils.

Technical Abstract: We review the evidence for a naturally occurring acid sulfate weathering event along the southern shore of Lake Michigan that was initiated ~15,000 YBP (years before present) at the close of the Wisconsin Glaciation. The evidence includes: (1) “unproductive black soils” that were encountered when settlers drained the wetlands in the area for agriculture, (2) areas of soils that have anomalously low base saturation and are classified into ultic subgroups in a region where typic subgroups are the norm, (3) unexpectedly high arsenic concentrations in streambed sediments of the Kankakee River, (4) pyrite, jarosite, and gypsum in cobbles from outwash deposits in the areas, and (5) identification of a modern day “unproductive black soil” with a surface soil pH of 2.1. We propose that the acid sulfate weathering event was initiated when the Lake Michigan Lobe of the Wisconsin Glacier eroded pyrite-rich bedrock and deposited it in an outwash fan on the Valparaiso Moraine, where sorting by water depleted calcium carbonate-rich fine material relative to pyrite-rich coarse material. Acid sulfate weathering on the higher landscape positions led to well drained soils depleted of Ca and Mg and resulted in anomalously low base saturation and soils now classified into ultic subgrous. Calcium, iron and sulfate moved to adjacent wetlands in the lower lying landscape positions, where reduction of iron and sulfate resulted in the precipitation of secondary pyrite in the accumulating organic material. Drainage of these wetlands for agriculture beginning in the late 1800s exposed the secondary pyrite to oxygen and initiated a second cycle of acid sulfate weathering that led to reports of “unproductive black soils.” These soils developed extremely low pH upon drainage. Some of these highly acid conditions exist today. Arsenic in the original pyrite is moving though the landscape and is manifested in the unexpectedly high arsenic contents in streambed sediments of the Kankakee River that drains the area. This work shows that a whole landscape approach is necessary to understand how seemingly unrelated observations are all manifestations of a single natural phenomenon.