Geochemical evidence of aeolian deposits in European soils


  • Andreas J. Scheib,

    1. British Geological Survey, Nottingham, UK
    2. Geological Survey of Western Australia, Australia
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  • Manfred Birke,

    1. Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe, Hannover, Germany
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  • Enrico Dinelli,

    1. Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra e Geologico-ambientali, Università di Bologna, Bologna, Italy
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  • GEMAS Project Team

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    • GEMAS Project Team: S. Albanese, M. Andersson, R. Baritz, M.J. Batista, A. Bel-lan, D. Cicchella, A. Demetriades, B. De Vivo, W. De Vos, M. Ďuriš, A. Dusza-Dobek, O.A. Eggen, M. Eklund, V. Ernstsen, P. Filzmoser, D.M.A. Flight, S. Forrester, M. Fuchs, U. Fügedi, A. Gilucis, M. Gosar, V. Gregorauskiene, W. De Groot, A. Gulan, J. Halamić, E. Haslinger, P. Hayoz, R. Hoffmann, J. Hoogewerff, H. Hrvatovic, S. Husnjak, L. Janik, G. Jordan, M. Kaminari, J. Kirby, J. Kivisilla, V. Klos, F. Krone, P. Kwecko, L. Kuti, A. Ladenberger, A. Lima, J. Locutura, D. P. Lucivjansky, A. Mann, D. Mackovych, M. McLaughlin, B.I. Malyuk, R. Maquil, R.G. Meuli, G. Mol, P. Négrel, P. O'Connor, R. K. Oorts, R.T. Ottesen, A. Pasieczna, W. Petersell, S. Pfleiderer, M. Poňavič, S. Pramuka, C. Prazeres, U. Rauch, S. Radusinović, C. Reimann, I. Salpeteur, M. Sadeghi, R. Scanlon, A. Schedl, I. Schoeters, P. Šefčik, E Sellersjö, F. Skopljak, I. Slaninka, A. Šorša, R. Srvkota, T. Stafilov, T. Tarvainen, V.Trendavilov, P. Valera, V. Verougstraete, D. Vidojević and Z. Zomeni.


Hafnium (Hf) and zirconium (Zr) concentrations measured in over 4100 agricultural soil samples from Europe were assessed with the focus on their relationship to the distribution of aeolian deposits, such as loess and coversands. Comparison of extractable (aqua regia; ICP-MS) and total (XRFS) concentrations shows that only 1.0 to 1.7% of the total Hf and Zr is chemically extractable because of the resistant nature of their host minerals. Resistate minerals, such as zircon, are commonly found in the predominantly silty fraction of loess deposits. In this study a statistical analysis of total Hf and Zr soil data from areas with and without loess was carried out to derive threshold values of 10 mg kg−1 (Hf) and 318 mg kg−1 (Zr). These values were subsequently applied across the project area in an attempt to indicate the presence of aeolian deposits. The spatial distribution of above-threshold concentrations suggests a more extensive and coherent loess belt across central and eastern Europe, providing additional evidence of loess across Brittany, Aquitaine and near the Vosges mountains in France as well as in the basins of central and northern Spain. Above-threshold concentrations were also detected in loess regardless of its thickness, emphasising the importance of the abundance of zircon in the upper part of the soil profile rather than the actual thickness of the deposit. Soil data however, failed to indicate various loess facies within most of the Pannonian Basin, suggesting that this approach only works where deposits contain a sufficient amount of zircon. This may also explain why the extensive coversands across northern Germany and Poland were largely undetected. This study demonstrates that continental-scale soil geochemical data can help identify and map the distribution of zircon-rich loess and coversand, and subsequently enhance and improve current knowledge of the extent of these deposits.