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the rock, both in the parent and daughter materials, is subjected to chemical
attack, principally by means of the solvent action of water, which may be
acid or alkali, depending on the substances in solution. Since the chemical
processes are surface reactions, their total or volumetric effect on the original
material cannot be important until large surface areas of the rock have been
exposed, largely by physical means. With a decrease in the size of individual
particles, the proportion of their surface area to their volume increases.
Because the physical processes of abrasion and comminution through the
collision of particles depend for their effectiveness on the mass or volume of
the fragments, their influence on the evolution of the soil material becomes
less significant, and chemical reactions become more predominant as the
particles become smaller. For the same reason, plants are unable to obtain
nourishment, through chemical means, from the minerals contained in large
rock fragments, whereas these same minerals are made available by very
small soil particles.
Physical or mechanical processes in a broad sense are generally considered
to be primary agents in reducing particle sizes down to about 0.001 to 0.002
mm in diameter, although smaller particles, called rock flour can be produced
by the grinding action of glaciers moving embedded rocks over a parent rock.
Particles having a diameter of less than 0.001 mm occur, but the breakdown
in this case is due to the chemical processes of solution, recombination, and
crystallization, and hence the particles do not possess the unaltered crystal
line structure of the constituent minerals of the parent rock. In addition,
differential solution, leaching, and deposition of chemicals whose solubility
is variable and sensitive to environmental conditions produce enrichment of
some elements and depletion of others in the resulting minerals which com
prise the soil. Organic and biological factors also play a part in the breakdown
of the original rock.
The very small mineral particles formed by chemical processes are crystal
line, and are called clay, clay colloids, or soil colloids. The minerals which
combine to produce clay are chemically the same as those forming the parent
rock, but they have a different crystalline structure arising from the solution
and recombination, or crystallization, of the original materials. The crystal
structures of clays will be discussed in the next chapter.
There are three main classes of clays: kaolinites, montmorillonites, and
illites. The type of clay that develops at a given site appears to depend on
factors other than the chemical composition of the parent rock since most
common rock minerals such as orthoclase feldspar, plagioelase feldspar, and
hornblende, which are weak enough mechanically to break down into small
fragments, contain the basic materials of clay colloids — oxides of aluminum
and silicon — together with the elements sodium, calcium, potassium, mag
nesium, iron, etc., whose presence in different amounts determines the clay
type formed. The mineral, quartz, is mechanically strong and therefore
resists breakdown into small enough fragments to take part in chemical
reactions, although some solution will take place in the soil water. Clay
minerals arc basically the hydrated silicates of aluminum, magnesium, and
iron. If, in an acid environment, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium,
and iron are completely leached away and hydrogen ions are brought in
during the clay-forming process while the ratio of silica to alumina in the