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Australian topsoils are an important but fragile resource. Iron oxides form in soils and are sensitive to factors such as pH, moisture and temperature that influence potential crop yields and therefore the suitability of land for agriculture. Spectroscopic analysis has provided detailed information on the relative abundances of the iron oxides hematite and goethite in soils across Australia. However, crucial knowledge on absolute mineral abundance and the occurrence of important oxides such as magnetite is lacking. This information can be provided by the techniques of environmental magnetism, which use the magnetic properties of naturally occurring minerals to quantify their form and abundance.
This research will be undertaken in collaboration with the CSIRO National Soil Archive, which maintains a collection of soil specimens that have been analysed spectroscopically to determine the relative hematite and goethite content. The project will involve:
- collecting and preparing samples at the CSIRO National Soil Archive;
- performing an environmental magnetic analysis at the RSES Palaeomagnetic Laboratory to characterize and quantify the iron oxides in each soil sample;
- comparing environmental magnetic results to the spectroscopic data held in the Australian Soil Resource Information System (ASRIS); and
- producing a map of the absolute distribution of iron oxides in soils across Australia.