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Chemical weathering in subtropical basalt-derived laterites: A mass balance interpretation (Misiones, NE Argentina)

Campodonico, Verena A., Pasquini, Andrea I., Lecomte, Karina L., García, M. Gabriela, Depetris, Pedro J.
Catena 2019 v.173 pp. 352-366
X-ray diffraction, adsorption, aluminum oxide, apatite, basalt, bedrock, chromium, glass, hematite, iron, kaolinite, laterites, leaching, manganese, models, nickel, organic matter, pH, plagioclase, provenance, rare earth elements, rubidium, silica, strontium, texture, weathering, zirconium, Argentina
Subtropical laterites are partially found in the Argentinian province of Misiones, covering the Jurassic-Cretaceous Serra Geral flood basalts (known as Posadas Formation in Argentina). Two hypotheses have been proposed to explain the origin of these laterites. The autochthonous theory attributes the origin of these deposits to the chemical weathering of the underlying tholeiitic basalts. However, during the last decade, an allochthonous “tropical loess” model was proposed. Several mineralogical/geochemical characteristics of a lateritic profile (~2 m thick, 26°9′58″S–54°35′3″W) are analyzed in this paper in order to constrain the nature of weathering processes in this region and the provenance of the lateritic layer. The basaltic bedrock at the sampling site exhibits intergranular texture and is mainly composed of clinopyroxene, plagioclase and opaque minerals (likely titanomagnetite and ilmenite). Altered glass and apatite were also identified in lower proportions. The X-ray diffraction of the clay-size fraction shows prevailing kaolinite and hematite in the most altered samples, complemented by amorphous Fe-Al (hydr)oxides. Serra Geral basalts-normalized spidergrams and mass balance calculations confirmed almost complete losses of all major oxides (i.e., ~50 g of material was removed by weathering from each 100 g of the original basalt) and depletions of some trace elements (e.g., Sc, V, Sr, Cr, Ni, Rb and U) in the uppermost and intermediate layers of the lateritic profile, reflecting the weathering of feldspars, clinopyroxenes, volcanic glass and apatite. In contrast, some elements are enriched in the topmost and intermediate layers, due to intrinsic immobility during weathering (e.g., Zr, Hf, Ta, Th) or adsorption onto clays (e.g., Cs). Rare earth elements (REEs) are depleted in the top layers and enriched in the middle section of the profile. The preferential leaching of REEs from the uppermost levels during weathering and its accumulation in the middle section can be caused by a pH increase in this level, the decomposition of organic matter and the consequent precipitation of REEs which exhibit an affinity to form aqueous organic complexes, or the presence of Fe and Mn (hydr)oxides in the intermediate level. Weathering intensity was appraised by means of different alteration indices, which showed the extreme leaching endured by the basaltic bedrock. The index of lateritization (IOL), which ranges between 35 and 55, and the accompanying SAF ternary plot (SiO2-Al2O3-Fe2O3), indicate an increasing weathering trend towards the profiles' top, reflecting the modest loss of SiO2 (relative to Al2O3 and Fe2O3) during kaolinitization. The geochemical approach used to constrain the origin of the lateritic mantle that partially covers Misiones province, clearly relates the analyzed laterites to the underlying tholeiitic basalts, supporting the autochthonous origin theory.