A Study of the Soils Derived from Serpetinite and Associated Rocks in Maryland

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Approximately 25,000 acres have been mapped as serpentinite-derived soils in Maryland. While fertility studies have been done in serpentine areas, little work has been undertaken concerning the genesis of these soils. The objectives of this study were: 1) characterize the properties of soils formed from serpentinite and associated mafic rocks; 2) apply the results of the characterization study to an understanding of the genesis of these soils; and 3) examine the mapping and classification of serpentine soils with reference to geologic mapping. In a reconnaissance effort, 48 sites were sampled and analyzed for extractable Mg, Ca, P, and K and for pH. From field observations and these data, seven locations were selected for profile descriptions and detailed sampling. Physical, chemical , and mineralogical analyses were conducted on these samples. All serpentine profiles showed weak to moderate expression of argillic horizons and as a result of high Mg saturation, are classified as Alfisols. Argillic horizons in the non-serpentine profiles were strongly developed. Serpentine minerals were generally abundant in the > 0.2 μm fractions of serpentinite-derived soils. These weather to form expansible 2:1 minerals in the finer fractions. Vermiculite and smectite were important in both serpentine and non-serpentine profiles. The presence of quartz, mica, and feldspar in the surface horizons of all profiles indicate that eolian additions have occurred in many counties in the Maryland Piedmont. Comparison of soil mapping with geologic mapping has revealed large acreages of serpentine soil units mapped over non-serpentine mafic rock . This demonstrates the need to better utilize available geologic information in soil mapping. Serpentinitic mineral families are not currently recognized in any soil series in Maryland. Three of the four serpentine profiles, however, contained high levels of serpentine minerals. There is, therefore, a need to recognize serpentinitic soil families in Maryland in order to better differentiate between soils formed from serpentinite or from non-serpentine mafic rocks.