Abstract

It has been proposed that iron hydroxides act as cementing agents in Champlain Sea clays, causing brittle behaviour and high sensitivities. Study of interbedded turbiditic sandy and clayey strata of the Champlain Sea disputes this contention. Ground waters flowing through these sandy interbeds have high pH and are sodium bicarbonate dominant and strongly reduced, with a calculated Eh of −276 to −343 mV, using the sulfate–sulfide redox couple. During movement from recharge to discharge, sulfate is reduced by bacterial decomposition of organic matter in the clays, producing high sulfide and bicarbonate activities. In terms of Eh and pH, these waters fall within the stability fields of Fe2+ and FeS2.No pyrite was detected in the sediments, but in borehole samples and very fresh exposures of both clay and sand lithologies a very finely-disseminated black mineral phase, interpreted as iron monosulfides, was observed which is highly unstable in an aerobic environment, oxidizing rapidly to red-brown ferric hydroxide. The presence of these monosulfides, along with the aqueous geochemical data, indicate strongly reducing conditions in the clay strata, in which iron hydroxides are not a stable phase. Ferric hydroxides can therefore not be called upon as cementing agents; past studies which identified these ferric compounds as such cementing agents based their conclusions on samples out of equilibrium with their natural environment and are not directly relevant to the behaviour of the clay under natural conditions. The effects of these iron monosulfides and associated organic material on clay behaviour have not yet been studied.

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