عنوان مقاله [English]
Introduction The loess-paleosol sequences in Northern Iran are important archives that represent several cycles of Quaternary climate change and can be used to complete the information gap on loess between Europe and central Asia. Last interglacial soils derived from loess in northern Iran is represented by strongly developed Bt horizons of forest soils. In Golestan and Mazandaran area, soils under the forest are mainly classified as Alfisols or Luvisols. Interestingly, E horizons are generally not found in these soils. In the Caspian Lowlands, a pronounced precipitation gradient is reflected in mean annual precipitation rates decreasing from about 1850 mm at Bandar Anzali in the west to about 435 mm at Gonbad- e Kavoos in the east. The results of the loess climosequence in Northern Iran showed that with increasing precipitation, soil pH and calcium carbonate contents decrease, whereas soil organic carbon, clay content, and cation exchange capacity increase. For years, many efforts to quantify the soil properties led to the provision of indices of soil development. Among these indices are forms and ratios of iron, morphological, and micromorphological indices. Many studies have been carried out on the loess-paleosol sequences and modern loess soils in Northern Iran with focus on micromorphology, mineralogy, and dating but more investigation is needed with an emphasis on the forest soils with well-pronounced clay illuviation as a proxy for paleo-moisture. For this purpose, we used micromorphology and soil color indices to report the effects of precipitation gradient on the variability in the formation of soils under forest vegetation.
Materials and Methods The study area is located at the northern slopes of Alborz Mountain Ranges, covered with Caspian or Hyrcanian deciduous forests. Field sampling started in summer 2015. More than ten soil pedons with loess parent material were investigated based on former studies. Finally, six representative modern pedons were selected and dug in an east-west direction on loess deposits. The climate data shows that precipitation varies from 500 mm in Qapan (Pedon 1) to up to 800 mm in Neka. Physiochemical properties of soils were studied using standard methods. Thin section prepared for soil micromorphological studies were studied and interpreted based on Bullock et al. and Stoops guideline using a polarizing microscope. The micromorphological index of soil development (MISECA), suggested by Khormali et al (2003), was calculated. Also, color indices were calculated based on Hurst (1977), Torrent (1983), and Alexander (1985) by using the Munsell color chart. In all color indices, Munsell color hue converts to a single number.
Results and Discussion The results showed that the downward decalcification and the subsequent clay illuviation were the main criteria influencing the assessment of soil development in this study. So, all of the soils host argillic and calcic horizons and are classified as Alfisols and Mollisols. Micromorphological studies confirmed the morphology studies in the field and the results of physico-chemical analyses. MISECA index showed pedological changes in different pedons in the studied areas. A significant positive relationship between climate gradient (increasing rainfall) and MISECA index was found. The area and thickness of clay coatings show an increasing trend with rainfall. Occurrence and preservation of clay coatings are more pronounced in more humid regions with illite and vermiculite as the dominant clay minerals. These minerals reduce the shrink/swell potential and increase the number of clay coatings present. In Argillic horizons of all pedons, except Toshan, dominant b-fabric is speckled due to carbonate leaching, while in Toshan, it is striated b-fabric. In calcite horizon, b-fabric is crystallitic. The correlation of various forms of iron with three color indices of Hurst, Torrent, and Alexander showed that Torrent and Alexander indices were better than the other one for the study area. Moreover, there was a good correlation between MISECA and Torrent color index.
Conclusion The results showed that the soil evolution in the studied areas is strongly influenced by soil formation factors, especially in a climate which shows a change in the micromorphological characteristics of soils. With increasing the rainfall from the east to the west in this gradient, the amount and thickness of clay coating, as well as secondary calcium carbonate accumulation, change significantly. In addition, the micromorphological and color indices of soil evolution can be used as two indicators for assessing the effects of rainfall gradient on soil formation in northern Iran. On the other hand, knowledge of the development of modern loess-derived soils could help to better understand the paleoenvironment.