Aeolian influences on the soils and landforms of the southern Yilgarn Craton of semi-arid, southwestern Australia
Harper, R.J. and Gilkes, R.J. (2004) Aeolian influences on the soils and landforms of the southern Yilgarn Craton of semi-arid, southwestern Australia. Geomorphology, 59 (1-4). pp. 215-235.
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Within a landscape developed on the deeply weathered, dominantly granitic rocks of the Yilgarn Craton in southwestern Australia, there is strong evidence of prior aeolian activity. Multiple arrays of clayey saltation deposits occur as clay dunes or lunettes extending up to 5 km to the southeast of playas, and quartzose sand dunes and sheets occur in a 2-km wide band that extends 10 km southeast of an ephemeral creek line. Parabolic dunes occur within some clayey lunettes. The parallel orientation of these diverse features and the elliptical shape of the playas suggest that the winds that have created these geomorphic entities have been from the northwest. Multiple lunette arrays with up to seven members have not been previously reported in this region.There is evidence for a more widespread, but more subtle, aeolian influence on the soils. Dust deposits appear to mantle parts of the landscape and are inferred to be coeval with the clayey saltation deposits. Although these do not occur as a discrete layer, evidence includes a plume of calcareous and illitic soils southeast of the major playa, in a landscape otherwise characterised by acidic, kaolinitic soils. Similarly, the occurrence of deep sandy soils on many slopes with a southeasterly aspect may indicate the interference of topography on the transport of saltating sands during an arid climatic phase. The presence of such aeolian deposits has implications for agricultural management, mineral exploration and the interpretation of ecological gradients in similar undisturbed landscapes.Current desertification, in the form of salinization and wind erosion, has precedence in this landscape. The aeolian deposits provide a means of interpreting landscape-scale responses to previous climate change and a key to predicting possible outcomes of both desertification and future climate change. Assuming that Bowler's theory that clay dunes require an adjacent salinized playa bed to form is correct, the arrays of clayey lunettes together with vegetated former playas indicate that the landscape has undergone multiple cycles of salinization and recovery. The lunettes may thus provide a means of predicting landscape hydrological responses to the widespread removal of natural vegetation for farming. Dating of the various sequences is required to provide a time scale for these landscape processes.
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