Holocene soils of a semiarid area in southern New Mexico occur on terraces and fans in and adjacent to the mountains. The illustrative soils have formed in alluvium derived from rhyolite, monzonite, and sedimentary rocks, mainly limestone.
A large arid basin occurs downslope from the mountains. In the arid-semiarid transition, the effect of a gradual increase in precipitation on soil morphology is shown by Holocene soils that sensitively reflect the precipitation. Where the parent materials contain little or no carbonate, a surficial noncalcareous zone and a reddish-brown horizon of silicate clay accumulation thicken mountainward as precipitation increases. The Bt horizon is underlain by the carbonate horizon, the upper boundary of which deepens mountainward. These orographic-depth relations and soil morphology support an interpretation that some of the clay (as well as the carbonate) is of illuvial origin. In high-carbonate parent materials, a noncalcareous zone has not developed and a reddish-brown horizon of clay accumulation has not formed.
In upper horizons, organic carbon increases and color darkens towards the mountains. This causes a change in soils at the categorical level of soil order; Mollisols do not occur in the arid basin downslope, where nearly all Holocene soils are either Aridisols or Entisols. In the semiarid zone, however, most Holocene soils are Mollisols. Thick, dark A horizons have formed in many of these soils. The thickness of these horizons is attributed primarily to episodes of sedimentation during soil development. Some Holocene Aridisols also occur in the semiarid zone. Generally these are on narrow ridges, where the mollic epipedon has been truncated or did not form.
In some terrains the soil-geomorphic relations are complex and Holocene soils may be above or at the same elevation as adjacent, much older soils. In such situations, when the morphological range of the various soils has been determined, soil morphology may be used to distinguish the Holocene soils and surfaces from their older analogs.