Hornblende Etching and Quartz/Feldspar Ratios as Weathering and Soil Development Indicators in Some Michigan Soils

Leslie R. Mikesell, Randall J. Schaetzl, and Michael A. Velbel

Weathering can be used as a highly effective relative age indicator. One such application involves etching of hornblende grains in soils. Etching increases with time (duration) and decreases with depth in soils and surficial sediments. Other variables, related to intensity of weathering and soil formation, are generally held as constant as possible so as to only minimally influence the time-etching relationship. Our study focuses on one of the variables usually held constant - climate - by examining hornblende etching and quartz/feldspar ratios in soils of similar age but varying degrees of development - due to climatic factors. We examined the assumption that the degree of etching varies as a function of soil development, even in soils of similar age. The Spodosols we studied form a climate-mediated development sequence on a 13,000-year old outwash plain in Michigan. Their pedogenic development was compared to weathering-related data from the same soils. In general, soils data paralleled weathering data. Hornblende etching was most pronounced in the A and E horizons, and decreased rapidly with depth. Quartz/feldspar ratios showed similar but more variable trends. In the two most weakly developed soils the Q/F ratio was nearly constant with depth, implying that this ratio may not be as effective a measure as are etching data for minimally weathered soils. Our data indicate that hornblende etching should not be used as a stand-alone relative age indicator, especially in young soils and in contexts where the degree of pedogenic variability on the geomorphic surface is large.