US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



QUATERNARY RESEARCH 33, 157-177 (1990)


U.S. government work


Most previous workers have regarded the insoluble residues of high-purity Quatemary limestones (coral reefs and oolites) as the most important parent material for well-developed, clay-rich soils on Caribbean and western Atlantic islands, but this genetic mechanism requires unreasonable amounts of limestone solution in Quatemary time. Other possible parent materials from external sources are volcanic ash from the Lesser Antilles island arc and Saharan dust carried across the Atlantic Ocean on the northeast trade winds. Soils on Quatemary coral terraces and carbonate eolianites on Barbados, Jamaica, the Florida Keys (United States), and New Providence Island (Bahamas) were studied to determine which, if either, external source was important. Caribbean volcanic ashes and Saharan dust can be clearly distinguished using ratios of relatively immobile elements (Al,O,/‘I’iO,, Ti, Ti/Zr, and TifI’h). Comparison of these ratios in 25 soils, where estimated ages range from 125,000 to about 870,000 yr, shows that Saharan dust is the most important parent material for soils on all islands. These results indicate that the northeast trade winds have been an important component of the regional climatology for much of the Quaterary. Saharan dust may also be an important parent material for Caribbean island bauxites of much greater age.