A Microbial Link to Weathering of Postglacial Rocks and Sediments, Mount Viso Area, Western Alps, Demonstrated through Analysis of a Soil/Paleosol Bio/Chronosequence

W. C. Mahaney*, Peeter Somelar, Randy W. Dirszowsky, Brian Kelleher, Prasanna Pentlavalli, Shane McLaughlin, Anna N. Kulakova, Sean Jordan, Coren Pulleyblank, Allen West, Christopher C R Allen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the mechanism associated with rates of weathering and evolution of rocks→sediment→soil→paleosol in alpine environments raises questions related to the impact of microbial mediation versus various diverse abiotic chemical/physical processes, even including the overall effect of cosmic impact/airburst during the early stage of weathering in Late Glacial (LG) deposits. This study is of a chronosequence of soils/paleosols, with an age range that spans the post–Little Ice Age (post-LIA; <150 yr), the Little Ice Age (LIA; AD 1500–1850), the middle Neoglacial (∼3 ka)–Younger Dryas (YD; <12.8 ka), and the LG (<15 ka). The goal is to elicit trends in weathering, soil morphogenesis, and related eubacterial population changes over the past 13–15 k.yr. The older LG/YD paleosols in the sequence represent soil morphogenesis that started during the closing stage of Pleistocene glaciation. These are compared with undated soils of midto late Neoglacial age, the youngest of LIA and post-LIA age. All profiles formed in a uniform parentmaterial ofmetabasalt composition and in moraine, rockfall, protalus, and alluvial fan deposits. Elsewhere in Europe,North America, and Asia, the cosmic impact/airburst event at 12.8 ka often produced a distinctive, carbon-rich “black mat” layer that shows evidence of high-temperature melting. At this alpine site, older profiles of similar LG age contain scorched and melted surface sediments that are otherwise similar in composition to the youngest/thinnest profiles developing in the catchment today. Moreover, microbial analysis of the sediments offers new insight into the genesis of these sediments: the C and Cu (u = unweathered) horizons in LG profiles present at 12.8 ka (now Ah/Bw) show bacterial population structures that differ markedly from recent alluvial/protalus sample bacterial populations. We propose here that these differences are, in part, a direct consequence of the age/cosmic impact/weathering processes that have occurred in the chronosequence. Of the several questions that emerge from these sequences, perhaps the most important involve the interaction of biotic-mineral factors, which need to be understood if we are to generally fully appreciate the role played by microbes in rock weathering.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-169
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Geology
Issue number2
Early online date14 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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