Soils and landscape evolution of eolian plains: the Southern High Plains of Texas and New Mexico

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Abstract

Sheets of eolian sediment cover many areas of the earth's surface, sand seas, dune fields, and loess sheets being the best known examples of such features. Less well known are deposits of sandy, eolian sediment forming extensive plains. An excellent example of such a region is the semi-arid Southern High Plains (northwest Texas and eastern New Mexico). The level landscape of the area was created by deposition of multiple, extensive (≈ 80,000 km2) sheets of eolian sediment (Blackwater Draw Formation) over the past 1.4+ Ma. This deposit grades from sandy (southwest) to silty and clayey (northeast) and is up to 27 m thick. Surface soils (at least 30,000 and possibly 120,000 years old) are well developed (5YR hues, agrillic horizons, 1-2m thick with prismatic structure, Stage II-III calcic horizons) and are generally Paleustolls and Paleustalfs, with some Paleargids and Haplargids. Morphologic variation is due mainly to textural variation of the eolian parent material, although locally thickness of the parent material and wind erosion and cumulization are important factors, and locally slight variation in effective precipitation may be significant. The Blackwater Draw Formation contains as many as six well-developed buried soils, each formed in individual layers of eolian sediment, similar to or more strongly expressed (2.5YR hues, higher illuvial clay content) than the regional surface soils. The presence of the buried soils indicates that sedimentation was episodic and separated by long periods of relative landscape stability. Eolian processes also appear to have been important during the periods of stability and pedoenesis by providing clayey, calcareous dust that was added to the soil, promoting formation of the argillic and calcic horizons. The sedimentologic and pedologic uniformity of the deposit suggests that the regional environment has not varied significantly during the Quaternary except for periods of increased sedimentation or wind deflation. Underlying the Blackwater Draw Formation is an Upper Tertiary deposit (up to 36 m thick) of eolian sand, silt, and clay (Ogallala Formation). This deposit contains buried soils very similar to those in the Blackwater Draw Formation, suggesting that the geomorphic processes that created the Quaternary landscape of the Southern High Plains began to operate in the late Tertiary, perhaps as much as 11 million years ago.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-515
Number of pages27
JournalGeomorphology
Volume3
Issue number3-4
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes

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