Abstract

K-Ar measurements were used in this study of upland Savannah River Site soils to distinguish between sorbed K and the K remaining in remnants of primary minerals. Study of sorbed K contributes to understanding further the interaction of alkali metals (Cs in particular) with the soils. Primary mineral K and the associated radiogenic Ar were studied to characterize soil mica with respect to its provenance and its relationship to hydroxy-interlayered vermiculite. K-Ar age values of Na-saturated clay fractions from five samples of these soils range in age from 270 to 370 Ma. After a moderate acid treatment (6% HNO3 v/v, ∼1 mol dm−3, 3 h, 80°C) of the clay fractions, K-Ar age values (270–325 Ma) were little changed on the whole, but they were more closely grouped near 300 Ma. Earlier work had shown that most of the K in these soils is found in material resistant to moderate acid extraction. The K-Ar age values show that this acid-resistant material is much older than any pedogenic minerals could be, even much older than the sedimentary parent rocks from which the soils were derived. These observations support earlier inferences by others that the K in these well leached soils is largely in remnants of primary muscovite from the parent sediments. Age values near 300 Ma suggest that the muscovite is largely from proximal Piedmont terranes of the Appalachian orogen, where the K-Ar relationship in most micas was set by Alleghanian tectonic processes late in the Paleozoic Era. The structural location of the K within mica, shown by the retention of the associated radiogenic Ar, is in contrast to the sorption-dominated behavior of the Cs and most of the Rb in these soils during pedogenesis. Stronger acid treatment (∼6 mol dm−3 HNO3, 3 h, 100°C) extracted substantial fractions of both the K and the radiogenic Ar from bulk-soil portions, indicating destruction of some of the primary mica. K-Ar age values for the sand-rich bulk soils were not useful for this study because the sand contains excess radiogenic Ar, probably in sand-sized vein quartz.

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