Cap structures as diagnostic indicators of silcrete origin

John Ullyott, David Nash, Jennifer Huggett

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Cap structureswithin silcretes have long been used as a diagnostic indicator of pedogenic silicification. However, a growing number of studies of the micromorphology of non-pedogenic silcretes indicate that this may no longer be appropriate. This paper presents the first systematic investigation of the micro-fabric, geochemistry and mineralogy of cap structures in groundwater silcretes, through an analysis of conglomeratic varieties (puddingstones) fromthe southern UK. Our results suggest that cap structures in groundwater silcretes fallwithin a spectrumof types, related to the degree of sorting in the inter-gravel host sediment. At one end of this spectrum are well-defined caps within otherwise well-sorted, overgrowth-dominated silcretes. These caps exhibit a grain-supported fabric, are cemented by micro- and/or cryptocrystalline silica, and contain floating silt-sized quartz and Ti-oxide grains. We propose that these structures developed mainly as a result of in-washing of fine sediments that were subsequently silicified. At the other end of the spectrum are silcreteswith caps defined by concentrations of Ti-oxide grains, as opposed to cement type and grain size. These formed mainly as a result of the remobilisation and precipitation of Ti during the silicification of gravels containing interstitial clay-rich sandy sediment. Between these end-members are silcretes with cap structures formed by a combination of in-washing and redistribution of fines plus some local remobilisation of Ti. Overall, the cap structures in this study exhibit a simple micromorphology, lacking the alternating Ti- and silica-rich lamellae typical of pedogenic silcrete. We conclude that the presence of cap structures alone should not be considered diagnostic of pedogenic silicification unless accompanied by other indicators such as a differentiated profile and abundant, complex, way-up structures within the micro-fabric.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-131
Number of pages13
JournalSedimentary Geology
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2015

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  • Groundwater silcrete
  • micromorphology
  • silicification
  • titanium mobilisation


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