Reconstruction of paleoclimatic conditions in the Ischigualasto basin, northwestern Argentina, has been constrained by field studies coupled with mineralogic, whole-rock, and fine-fraction chemical and stable isotope analysis of a Triassic (Carnian) basalt-hosted fossil soil. Field evidence, such as wedge-shaped aggregate structure and slickensides, indicate this was likely a paleo-Vertisol. Whole-rock analysis defines down-profile trends in clay mineralogy and chemical composition that are consistent with modern soils developed upon basalt parent material. X-ray diffraction analysis indicates that the basaltic parent material is dominated by plagioclase with trace amounts of weathered 2:1 phyllo-silicate. Overlying weathered horizons show a progressive loss of plagioclase and an increase in phyllosilicates with minor amounts of kandite clays and detrital quartz. X-ray diffraction analysis of the <2 µm fraction shows that the weathered layers are dominated by dioctahedral smectite (montmorillonite) with a minor fraction of kaolinite in the upper layers of the profile. There is a progressive loss of basic cations in conjunction with an increase in concentration, on a wt% basis, of conservative elements from the basalt upward through the weathering profile. The combined data indicate that this soil likely formed on a stable landscape in a cool and humid climate. In addition, the presence of quartz in the paleosol profile suggests an eolian contribution of sediment during pedogenesis.
Despite these apparent morphologic and bulk chemical trends indicative of a pedogenic origin, none of the authigenic minerals formed in isotopic equilibrium. However, based on measured oxygen and hydrogen isotope compositions, these minerals apparently formed from meteoric waters with a narrow range of δ18O and δD compositions at different temperatures. If this is correct, then amygdaloidal calcites formed at ∼60–100 °C, followed by precipitation of montmorillonites at 49–57 °C during late-stage hydrothermal alteration. Finally, goethite formed at low temperatures of 6 ± 3 °C in a pedogenic environment.
This complex history of hydrothermal alteration and pedogenic overprinting brings to light the need for cautious interpretation of bulk chemical trends in paleosols as a means for paleoclimate reconstruction. Comparison of the calculated Triassic oxygen isotopic compositions of meteoric water and soil temperature with modern environments suggests that this soil formed in a seasonal, humid, and cool climate.