Abstract

This paper describes the ways in which the major rock-forming primary minerals (olivine, pyroxenes, amphiboles, feldspars, micas and chlorites) break down during weathering, the products that develop during this breakdown and the rates at which this breakdown occurs. The perspective chosen to illustrate this vast topic is that of the residual soil weathering profile. Different physical and chemical conditions characterize the various parts of such a profile. Thus, in the slightly weathered rock at the base of the profile, mineral weathering will take place in microfissures and narrow solution channels and the capillary water in such spatially restricted volumes may be expected to be close to equilibrium with the primary mineral. In these circumstances, the weathering product formed may be closely related to the primary mineral both compositionally and structurally. The saprolite higher up in the weathering profile may or may not retain the fabric and structure of the original parent rock, but in either case the close relationship observed between primary mineral and weathering product in the slightly weathered rock may be lost. This part of the profile will usually be affected by freely flowing drainage waters, the composition of which will be far from equilibrium with specific primary minerals. Weathering products which do form are likely to reflect the interaction between bulk water and bulk parent material. In the soil profile, the situation will be further complicated by organic ligands derived from decomposing organic matter or from the direct activities of soil microbes or plant roots. Thus, biological weathering will assume a much greater significance in this part of the profile compared with the mainly inorganic processes dominating in the saprolite and the slightly weathered rock. The general nature of any particular weathering profile will reflect the interactions between climate, topography, parent material, soil biota and time and superimposed upon this complexity, when considering how individual primary minerals break down in detail, will be factors related to the nature of the mineral itself. Particularly important in this respect is the inherent susceptibility of the mineral to weathering, which is related to overall chemical composition and structure, as well as the distribution and density of defects, dislocations and exsolution features, which often control the progress of the weathering reaction.

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