Eurasian Soil Science

, Volume 45, Issue 10, pp 901–917 | Cite as

Endolithic pedogenesis and rock varnish on massive crystalline rocks in East Antarctica

  • N. S. MergelovEmail author
  • S. V. Goryachkin
  • I. G. Shorkunov
  • E. P. Zazovskaya
  • A. E. Cherkinsky
Genesis and Geography of Soils


Desert varnish and endolithic organisms are two widespread phenomena that have been studied in detail separately; their interaction and their genetic relationships have virtually escaped the attention of researchers. Both phenomena are of indubitable interest for pedology: endolithic organisms as an agent of soil formation and rock varnish as a probable product of pedogenesis. It is argued that the system of endolithic organisms, their functioning products, and the rock has all the features inherent to soils: the rock layer subjected to the influence of external abiogenic factors and living organisms dwelling in the rock and synthesizing and decomposing organic substances. The action of biogenic and abiogenic agents leads to the in situ transformation of the rock with the accumulation and removal of the products of this transformation and with the development of vertical heterogeneity in the form of microhorizons composing the soil microprofile. Instrumental measurements indicate that the carbon content in the endolithic horizons developed by biota in granitoid rocks of the Larsemann Hills oasis varies from 0.2 to 3.3%, the nitrogen content in these horizons varies from 0.02 to 0.47%, and the radiocarbon age of their organic matter reaches 480 ± 25 yrs. The products of the pedogenesis are represented by fine earth materials and by abundant and often multilayered films and coatings on the rock surface and on the lower sides of the desquamation (spalling) plates. Scanning electron microscopy with X-ray microprobe analysis indicates that the major elements composing these films are O, C, Si, Al, Fe, Ca, Mg, and S. It is shown that the films of the rock varnish and the organomineral films in the fissured zone of the rock under the plate with endolithic communities have certain similarity in their morphology and composition: the films of the rock varnish also contain biota (dead cells or cells in the dormant state), and their botryoidal structure is similar to the structure of the biofilms inside the endolithic system. In both types of films, amorphous aluminum and silicon compounds are present, and the accumulation of Fe, Ca, Mg, S, Cl, and some other elements takes place. It is argued that some varieties of rock varnish are the products of endolithic pedogenesis; in essence, they represent the horizons of micropaleosols exposed to the surface in the course of spalling and then transformed by the external environmental agents.


EURASIAN Soil Science Fine Earth Rock Varnish Desert Varnish Endolithic Community 
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Copyright information

© Pleiades Publishing, Ltd. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. S. Mergelov
    • 1
    Email author
  • S. V. Goryachkin
    • 1
  • I. G. Shorkunov
    • 1
  • E. P. Zazovskaya
    • 1
  • A. E. Cherkinsky
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of GeographyRussian Academy of SciencesMoscowRussia
  2. 2.Center for Applied Isotope StudiesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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