ABSTRACT

Precambrian (1.4 to 1.5 Ga) granite and rhyolite in the St. Francois Mountains at the northeast corner of the Ozark Plateau in Missouri has been altered down to a depth up to 8 meters below the Great Unconformity (the contact between Paleozoic sedimentary rock and underlying Precambrian). Petrographic, geochemical, and mineralogic data indicate that at least two events generated this alteration: 1) surficial weathering due to subaerial exposure of the granite before Cambrian burial—this material is preserved as a paleosol; and 2) alteration due to reaction with basinal fluids channeled along the unconformity from nearby sedimentary basins long after burial by Paleozoic strata. To assess the variation between surficial weathering and basinal fluid alteration, we measured and sampled for petrologic, geochemical, and mineralogic data in the rock at and just below the Great Unconformity at three paleoelevations. Whole-rock geochemical oxide and X-ray diffraction data indicate that K-metasomatism and highly crystalline illite occurred in each profile. The K increase reflects crystallization of authigenic feldspar and illite from basinal fluids that were channeled along the Great Unconformity during younger Paleozoic fluid-flow events. Each profile also exhibits an upward increase in altered feldspar crystals and highly crystalline kaolinite, and an upward decrease in Ca and Na. Such changes reflect soil formation due to reaction with meteoric water before Cambrian burial, indicating that the altered granite was a paleosol before Paleozoic basinal fluid-flow events. Notably, the paleosol at the highest paleoelevation displays the least amount of paleoweathering and the paleosol at the lowest displays the greatest amount of paleoweathering. These results demonstrate that not only can characteristics of the paleosol just below the Great Unconformity be recognized in the St. Francois Mountains, despite subsequent alteration, but also it is possible to detect variations in soil thickness that were controlled by slope steepness and, therefore, water availability and/or soil creep or failure. This spatial relationship is compatible with studies of modern soils which indicate that soil character varies with position on a slope.

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