EGU23-6886, updated on 25 Feb 2023
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Comparing Models for Duricrust Formation in Tropical and Subtropical Areas

Caroline Fenske1, Jean Braun1, François Guillocheau2, and Cécile Robin2
Caroline Fenske et al.
  • 1GeoForschungsZentrum (Helmholtz Zentrum) Potsdam, Earth Surface Process Modelling Section 4.7, Potsdam, Germany (
  • 2Géosciences Rennes, Université Rennes 1, Rennes, France

Duricrusts are hard elemental layers forming in tropical and subtropical regions. Different types of duricrusts exist, including calcretes, silcretes and ferricretes (or iron duricrusts), that differ by their composition and, most likely, their formation mechanism. In places such as Africa, Australia or Brazil, we can observe them capping hills and protecting landscapes, thus being an important part of regional geomorphology. Their formation is highly dependent on climate and requires strong seasonal precipitation cycles, enabling transport and accumulation of elements during wet seasons and precipitation and hardening during dry seasons. However, it is also known that duricrusts form in tectonically quiet environments, and multiple tens of thousands of years are needed to form centimetres to metres thick elemental layers. 

Two hypotheses for duricrust formation exist, namely the water table (or horizontal) hypothesis and the laterite (or vertical) hypothesis. Yet, until recently, no quantitative (numerical) model exists that represents either of them. We presented last year (Fenske et al, 2022) a model based on the water table hypothesis. Here we present a second model based on the laterite hypothesis and compare the predictions of the two models. Although the models we propose are potentially applicable to a wide range of duricrusts, we will concentrate here on the formation of ferricretes.

Laterites are a type of regolith covering around 33\% of land surfaces. The thickest lateritic profiles are found in the centre of continental cratons, where they evolved for millions of years. The main process responsible for laterisation is weathering, the process transforming bedrock into regolith. During weathering rocks progressively lose their structure, elements are dissolved, re-precipitated, leached, or transported, leading to progressive porification and compaction. Subsequently, from the weathering front to the surface, a typical lateritic profile is made of coarse grained and then fine grained saprolite, a mottled zone and at the top, an indurated cover, the ferricrete. 

We recently developed a numerical model for duricrust formation according to the laterisation hypothesis (LT model). In this model, iron duricrusts are genetically linked to the bed rock. Material from the bedrock are transformed and leached within a given vertical column of rocks but are also moved vertically due to tectonic uplift. We assume that as the regolith ages, it undergoes a process of transformation that is proportional to mean fluid flow and that leads to hardening and compaction. As material is constantly removed from the regolith layer, the model is dependant on a constant material input (through uplift and, potentially, surface erosion) to reach sufficient laterisation for ferricrete formation.     
Comparing predictions of the laterisation (LT) model to those of the water table (WT) model, we observe that they require slightly different tectonic regime, with the WT model most efficient during period of complete quiescence and the LT model needing a slow constant rate of base level fall to produce duricrusts. The two models also differ by the geometry of the duricrusts they predict and, in particular, the depth at which duricrust forms in the regolith (at or above the water table level).

How to cite: Fenske, C., Braun, J., Guillocheau, F., and Robin, C.: Comparing Models for Duricrust Formation in Tropical and Subtropical Areas, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-6886,, 2023.

Supplementary materials

Supplementary material file