Skip to main content Accessibility help

Coupled micromorphological and stable isotope analysis of Quaternary calcrete development

  • Kathryn Adamson (a1), Ian Candy (a2) and Liz Whitfield (a3)


Pedogenic calcretes are widespread in arid and semi-arid regions. Using calcrete profiles from four river terraces of the Rio Alias in southeast Spain, this study explores the potential of using detailed micromorphological and stable isotopic analysis to more fully understand the impacts of Quaternary environmental change on calcrete development. The four profiles increase in carbonate complexity with progressive age, reflecting calcretisation over multiple glacial–interglacial cycles since MIS 9 (c. 300 ka). Calcrete profiles contain a mixture of Alpha (non-biogenic) and Beta (biogenic) microfabrics. Alpha fabrics have higher δ13C and δ18O values. The profiles contain a range of crystal textures, but there is little difference between the δ13C and δ18O values of spar, microspar, and micrite cements. Strong positive covariance between δ13C and δ18O suggests that both isotopes are responding to the same environmental parameter, which is inferred to be relative aridity. The study reveals that the detailed co-analysis of calcrete micromorphology and stable isotope signatures can allow patterns of calcrete formation to be placed into a wider palaeoclimatic context. This demonstrates the potential of this technique to more reliably constrain the palaeoenvironmental significance of secondary carbonates in dryland settings where other proxy records may be poorly preserved.



Hide All
Achyuthan, H. Quade, J. Roe, L. Placzek, C. Stable isotopic composition of pedogenic carbonates from the eastern margin of the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India Quaternary International 162–163 2007 5060
Alam, M.S. Keppens, E. Paepe, R. The use of oxygen and carbon isotope composition of pedogenic carbonates from Pleistocene palaeosols in NW Bangladesh as palaeoclimatic indicators Quaternary Science Reviews 16 1997 161168
Allen, J.R.M. Brandt, U. Brauer, A. Hans-Wolfgang, H. Huntley, B. Keller, J. Krami, M. Mackensen, A. Mingram, J. Negendank, J.F.W. Nowaczyk, N.R. Oberhansli, H. Watts, W.A. Wulg, S. Zolitschka, B. Rapid environmental changes in southern Europe during the last glacial period Nature 400 1999 740743
Alonso, P. Dorronsoro, C. Egido, J.A. Carbonation in palaeosols formed on terraces of the Tormes river basin (Salamanca, Spain) Geoderma 118 2004 261276
Alonso-Zarza, A.M. Palaeoenvironmental significance of palustrine carbonates and calcretes in the geological record Earth Science Reviews 60 2003 261298
Alonso-Zarza, A.M. Arenas, C. Cenezoic calcretes from the Teruel Graben, Spain: microstructure, stable isotope geochemistry and environmental significance Sedimentary Geology 167 2004 91108
Alonso-Zarza, A.M. Silva, P.G. Goy, J.L. Zazo, C. Fan-surface and biogenic calcrete development: interactions during ultimate phases of fan evolution in the semiarid SE Spain (Murcia) Geomorphology 24 1998 147167
Andrews, J.E. Singhvi, A.K. Kailath, A.J. Kuhn, R. Dennis, P.J. Tandon, S.K. Dhir, R.P. Do stable isotope data from calcrete record Late Pleistocene monsoonal climate variation in the Thar Desert of India? Quaternary Research 50 1998 240251
Bain, R.J. Foos, A.M. Carbonate Microfabrics Related to Subaerial Exposure in Palaeosols Formation Rezak, R. Lanoie, D.L. 1993 Carbonate Microfabrics. Springer-Verlag Berlin 1927
Bar-Matthews, M. Ayalon, A. Gilmour, M. Matthews, A. Hawkesworth, C.J. Sea–land oxygen isotopic relationships from planktonic foraminifera and speleothems in the Eastern Mediterranean region and their implications for palaeorainfall during interglacial intervals Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 67 2003 31813199
Biedenbender, S.H. McClaran, M.P. Quade, J. Weltz, M.A. Landscape patterns of vegetation change indicated by soil carbon isotope composition Geoderma 119 2004 6983
Braithwaite, C.J.R. Calcrete and other soils in Quaternary limestones: structures, processes and applications Journal of the Geological Society of London 140 1983 351363
Brasier, A.T. Andrews, J.E. Marca-Bell, A.D. Dennis, P.F. Depositional continuity of seasonally laminated tufas: implications for δ18O based palaeotemperatures Global and Planetary Change 71 3–4 2010 160167
Calvet, F. Julià, R. Pisoids in the caliche profiles of Tarragona (N. E. Spain) Peryt, T. Coated Grain 1983 Springer-Verlag Berlin 456473
Candy, I. Black, S. The timing of Quaternary calcrete development in semi-arid southeast Spain: investigating the role of climate on calcrete genesis Sedimentary Geology 218 1–4 2009 615
Candy, I. Black, S. Sellwood, B.W. Calcrete profile development in Quaternary alluvial sequences, southeast Spain: implications for using calcretes as a basis for landform chronologies Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 28 2003 169185
Candy, I. Black, S. Sellwood, B.W. Interpreting the response of a dryland river system to Late Quaternary climate change Quaternary Science Reviews 23 2004 25132523
Candy, I. Black, S. Sellwood, B.W. Quantifying timescales of pedogenic calcrete formation using U-series disequilibria Sedimentary Geology 170 2004 177187
Candy, I. Black, S. Sellwood, B.W. U-series isochron dating of immature and mature calcretes as a basis for constructing Quaternary landform chronologies for the Sorbas basin, southeast Spain Quaternary Research 64 2005 100111
Candy, I. Adamson, K.R. Gallant, C.E. Maher, L. Pope, R. Oxygen and carbon isotopic composition of Quaternary meteoric carbonates from western and southern Europe: their role in palaeoenvironmental reconstruction Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 1–11 2012 326328
Cerling, T.E. The stable isotopic composition of modern soil carbonate and its relationship to climate Earth and Planetary Science Letters 71 1984 229240
Cerling, T.E. Quade, J. Stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in soil carbonates Climate change in continental isotopic records 217–231 1993
Cerling, T.E. Wang, Y. Quade, J. Expansion of C4 ecosystems as an indicator of global ecological change in the late Miocene Nature 361 6410 1993 344345
Cerling, T.E. Quade, J. Wang, Y. Bowman, J.R. Carbon isotopes in soils and palaeosols as ecology and palaeoecology indicators Nature 341 6238 1989 138139
Candy, I. Rose, J. Lee, J. A seasonally ‘dry’interglacial climate in eastern England during the early Middle Pleistocene: palaeopedological and stable isotopic evidence from Pakefield, UK Boreas 35 2 2006 255265
Candy, I. Stephens, M. Hancock, J. Waghorne, R. Palaeoenvironments of ancient humans in Britain: the application of oxygen and carbon isotopes to the reconstruction of Pleistocene environments The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain 23–27 2011
Deutz, P. Montañez, I.P. Monger, H.C. Morrison, J. Morphology and isotope heterogeneity of Late Quaternary pedogenic carbonates: implications for palaeosol carbonates as palaeoenvironmental proxies Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 166 2001 293317
Deutz, P. Montañez, I.P. Monger, H.C. Morphology and stable and radiogenic isotope composition of pedogenic carbonates in late Quaternary relict soils, New Mexico, U.S.A.: an integrated record of pedogenic overprinting Journal of Sedimentary Research 72 6 2002 809822
Dever, L. Fontes, J. Riché, G. Isotopic approach to calcite dissolution and precipitation in soils under semi-arid conditions Chemical Geology 66 1987 307314
Drees, L.R. Wilding, L.P. Micromorphic record and interpretation of carbonate forms in the Rolling Plains of Texas Geoderma 40 1987 157175
Fedoroff, N. Clay illuviation in red Mediterranean soils Catena 28 1997 171189
Flügel, E. Microfacies of Carbonate Rocks: Analysis, Interpretation and Application 2004 Springer-Verlag Berlin
Gile, L.H. Peterson, F.F. Grossman, R.B. The K horizon: a master soil horizon of carbonate accumulation Soil Science 99 2 1965 7182
Gile, L.H. Peterson, F.F. Grossman, R.B. Morphological and genetic sequences of carbonate accumulation in desert soils Soil Science 101 1966 347360
Gilman, A. Thornes, J.B. Land-Use and Prehistory in South-East Spain 1985 Allen and Unwin London
Goodfriend, G.A. Terrestrial stable isotope records of Late Quaternary paleoclimates in the eastern Mediterranean region Quaternary Science Reviews 18 1999 501513
Goudie, A.S. Calcrete Goudie, A.S. Pye, K. Chemical Sediments and Geomorphology: Precipitates and Residua the Near Surface Environment 1983 Academic Press London 93132
Günster, N. Eck, P. Skowronek, A. Zöller, L. Late Pleistocene loess and their palaeosols in the Granada Basin, Southern Spain Quaternary International 76–77 2001 241245
Harrison, S.P. Digerfeldt, J. European lakes as palaeohydrological and palaeoclimatic indicators Quaternary Science Reviews 12 1993 233248
Harvey, A.M. Wells, S.G. Response of Quaternary fluvial systems to differential epeirogenic uplift: Aguas and Feos river systems, southeast Spain Geology 15 1987 689693
Harvey, A.M. Miller, S.Y. Wells, S.G. Quaternary soil and river terrace sequences in the Aguas/Feos river systems: Sorbas basin, southeast Spain Lewin, J. Macklin, M.G. Woodward, J.C. Mediterranean Quaternary River Environments A 1995 A. Balkema Rotterdam 263281
Jalut, G. Amat, A.E. Bonnet, L. Gauquelin, T. Fontugne, M. Holocene climatic changes in the Western Mediterranean from south-east France to south-east Spain Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 160 2000 255290
Jiménez-Espinosa, R. Jiménez-Millán, J. Calcrete development in Mediterranean colluvial carbonate systems from SE Spain Journal of Arid Environments 53 2003 479489
Kelly, M. Black, S. Rowan, J.S. A calcrete-based U/Th chronology for landform evolution in the Sorbas basin, southeast Spain Quaternary Science Reviews 19 2000 9951010
Kemp, R.A. Soil micromorphology and the Quaternary. Quaternary Research Association Technical Guide 2, Cambridge 1985
Machette, M.N. Calcic soils of the southwestern United States Weide, D.L. Soils and Quaternary Geology of the Southwestern United States Geological Society of America, Special Paper 203 1985 121
Magny, M. Miramont, C. Sivan, O. Assessment of the impact of climate and anthropogenic factors on Holocene Mediterranean vegetation in Europe on the basis of palaephydrological records Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 186 2002 4759
Maher, E. Harvey, A.M. Fluvial system response to tectonically induced base-level change during the late-Quaternary: the Rio Alias southeast Spain Geomorphology 100 1–2 2008 180192
Maher, E. Harvey, A.M. France, D. The impact of a major Quaternary river capture on the alluvial sediments of a beheaded river system, the Rio Alias SE Spain Geomorphology 84 2007 344356
Martín-Algarra, A. Martín-Martín, M. Andreo, B. Julià, R. González-Gómez, C. Sedimentary patterns in perched spring travertines near Granada (Spain) as indicators of the palaeohydrological and palaeoclimatological evolution of a karst massif Sedimentary Geology 161 2003 217228
Nash, D.J. McLaren, S.J. Kalahari valley calcretes: their nature, origins and environmental significance Quaternary International 111 2003 322
Nash, D.J. Smith, R.F. Multiple calcrete profiles in the Tabernas Basin, southeast Spain: their origins and geomorphic implications Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 23 11 1998 10091029
Netterberg, F. The interpretation of some basin calcrete types The South African Archaeological Bulletin 24 95–96 1969 117122
Pons, A. Reille, M. The Holocene- and Upper Pleistocene pollen record from Padul (Granada, Spain): a new study Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 66 1988 243263
Prentice, I.C. Guiot, J. Harrison, S.P. Mediterranean vegetation, lake levels and palaeoclimate at the Last Glacial Maximum Nature 360 1992 658660
Quade, J. Cerling, T. Carbon stable isotopes: non-lacustrine terrestrial studies Elias, S. Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science 2007 Elsevier London
Quade, J. Cerling, T.E. Bowman, J.R. Systematic variations in the carbon and oxygen isotopic composition of pedogenic carbonate along elevation transects in the southern Great Basin, USA Geological Society of America Bulletin 101 1989 464475
Robinson, S.A. Andrews, J.E. Hesselbo, S.P. Radley, J.D. Dennis, P.F. Harding, I.C. Allen, P. Atmospheric pCO2 and depositional environment from stable-isotope geochemistry of calcrete nodules (Barremian, Lower Cretaceous, Wealden beds, England) Journal of the Geological Society of London 159 2002 215224
Rossinsky, V. Jr. Swart, P.K. Influence of climate on the formation and isotopic composition of calcretes Swart, P.K. Lohmann, K.C. McKenzie, J. Savin, S. Climate Change in Continental Isotopic Records Geophysical Monograph 78 1993 American Geophysical Union Washington 6775
Schmidt, S. Worden, R.H. Fisher, Q.J. Variations in stable isotopes with depth in regolith calcite cements in the Broken Hill region, Australia: palaeoclimate evolution signal? Journal of Geochemical Exploration 89 2006 355358
Talma, A.S. Netterberg, F. Stable isotope abundances in calcretes 1983 Special Publications IIGeological Society London 221233
Tzedakis, P.C. Andrieu, V. de Beaulieu, J.-L. Birks, H.J.B. Crowhurst, S. Follieri, M. Hooghiemstra, H. Magri, D. Reille, M. Sadori, L. Shackleton, N.J. Wijmstra, T.A. Establishing a terrestrial chronological framework as a basis for biostratigraphical comparisons Quaternary Science Reviews 20 2001 15831592
Tzedakis, P.C. Hooghiemstra, H. Pälike, H. The last 1.35 million years at Tenaghi Philippon: revised chronostratigraphy and long-term vegetation trends Quaternary Science Reviews 25 2006 34163430
Ufnar, D.F. Gröck, D.R. Beddows, P.A. Assessing pedogenic calcite stable-isotope values: can positive linear covariant trends be used to quantify palaeo-evaporation rates? Chemical Geology 256 1–2 2008 4651
Watts, N.L. Displacive calcite: evidence from recent and ancient calcretes Geology 6 1978 699703
Wright, V.P. Carbonate sediments and limestones: constituents Tucker, M.E. Wright, V.P. Carbonate Sdimentology 1990 Blackwell Oxford
Wright, V.P. Calcrete Nash, D.J. McLaren, S.J. Geochemical Sediments and Landscapes RGS-IBG Book Series 2007 Blackwell Oxford
Wright, V.P. Tucker, M.E. Calcretes: an introduction Wright, V.P. Tucker, M.E. Calcretes 1991 International Association of Sedimentology
Yaalon, D.H. Soils in the Mediterranean region: what makes them different? Catena 28 1997 157169



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed