Physical compaction of vertic palaeosols: implications for burial diagenesis and palaeo-precipitation estimates



Burial compaction is one of several major obstacles to estimating palaeoprecipitation from depth to pedogenic carbonate in favourably preserved palaeosols. Palaeosols must be decompacted and the preburial depth to the pedogenic carbonate obtained. Vertic palaeosols may be particularly good candidates for palaeoprecipitation estimates, because of their increased likelihood of preserving clastic dykes, one of the best features for estimating burial compaction. Compaction estimates from clastic dykes and literature-based depth of burial estimates suggest vertic palaeosols undergo significantly less burial compaction than may be commonly assumed. Late Carboniferous vertic palaeosols, buried to 2·5–3·0 km, compacted to 93% of their original thickness. In contrast, clastic dykes in a nonpedogenic shale directly underlying one of the Late Carboniferous palaeosols records compaction to 70% of original thickness. Similarly obtained burial compaction and burial depth estimates for Early Carboniferous, Ordovician, and Proterozoic vertic palaeosols were used to test a burial compaction curve and equation specific to vertic palaeosols. Results suggest this ‘vertic-calibrated’curve and equation can be used to estimate burial compaction for vertic palaeosols lacking clastic dykes, but additional testing is needed. Naturally high bulk densities may have limited the compactibility of vertic palaeosols. Likewise, high initial bulk density and an abundance of swelling clays may have severely limited the transmissivity of some vertic palaeosols as they passed from pedogenic to burial environments. Upon burial these vertic palaeosols may have behaved as closed systems, which has implications for understanding their diagenetic modification. Additional efforts to understand burial compaction of vertic palaeosols also promises to improve our understanding of aquifer/aquiclude and hydrocarbon reservoir/seal relationships in sedimentary basins containing intercalated palaeosols.