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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quantification of colloidal and aqueous element transfer in soils: The dual-phase mass balance model

  • Author(s): Bern, CR
  • Thompson, A
  • Chadwick, OA
  • et al.

© 2014. Mass balance models have become standard tools for characterizing element gains and losses and volumetric change during weathering and soil development. However, they rely on the assumption of complete immobility for an index element such as Ti or Zr. Here we describe a dual-phase mass balance model that eliminates the need for an assumption of immobility and in the process quantifies the contribution of aqueous versus colloidal element transfer. In the model, the high field strength elements Ti and Zr are assumed to be mobile only as suspended solids (colloids) and can therefore be used to distinguish elemental redistribution via colloids from redistribution via dissolved aqueous solutes. Calculations are based upon element concentrations in soil, parent material, and colloids dispersed from soil in the laboratory. We illustrate the utility of this model using a catena in South Africa. Traditional mass balance models systematically distort elemental gains and losses and changes in soil volume in this catena due to significant redistribution of Zr-bearing colloids. Applying the dual-phase model accounts for this colloidal redistribution and we find that the process accounts for a substantial portion of the major element (e.g., Al, Fe and Si) loss from eluvial soil. In addition, we find that in illuvial soils along this catena, gains of colloidal material significantly offset aqueous elemental loss. In other settings, processes such as accumulation of exogenous dust can mimic the geochemical effects of colloid redistribution and we suggest strategies for distinguishing between the two. The movement of clays and colloidal material is a major process in weathering and pedogenesis; the mass balance model presented here is a tool for quantifying effects of that process over time scales of soil development.

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