American Journal of Climate Change, 2012, 1, 231-239
http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ajcc.2012.14020 Published Online December 2012 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/ajcc)
Clay Minerals as Climate Change
Indicators—A Case Study
A. R. Chaudhri, Mahavir Singh
Department of Geology, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, India
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Received September 29, 2012; revised October 30, 2012; accepted November 10, 2012
The clay mineralogy of the Late Pliocene-Early Pleistocene Pinjor Formation of the type area, northwestern Himalaya,
India has been investigated to understand the paleoclimatic conditions and paleotectonic regime prevailing in the frontal
Himalayan terrain during 2.5 Ma to 1.7 Ma. The clay minerals were investigated by X-ray diffraction analysis and
scanning electron microscope studies. Study of the oriented aggregates of 47 representative clay samples of the Pinjor
Formation of the type area reveals that illite is the most dominant mineral followed by chlorite, kaolinite, vermiculite
and mixed layer clay minerals. The distribution of the clay minerals in the three lithostratigraphic units of the Forma-
tion, namely the Kona Clay Member, the Tanda Bhagwanpur Wacke Member and the Chauki Nadah Pebbly Bed
Member which are well exposed along the Berwala-Mandhna section, the Kona-Karaundanwala section and the Ghag-
gar River-Chauki Nadah section, is nearly uniform suggesting thereby the prevalence of similar sedimentation environ-
ments in the Himalayan foreland basin. The presence of illite and kaolinite suggests their derivation from crystalline
rocks containing felspar and mica as also from pre-existing soils and sedimentary rocks. Further, the paleoclimatic con-
ditions were moderate. Presence of chlorite suggests the weathering of intermediate and basic crystalline rocks and low
grade metamorphic rocks in the positive areas. The presence of kaolinite in the Pinjor Formation is mainly attributed to
the weathering and subsequent leaching of the mineral from granitic and basic rocks in the hinterland. Vermiculite has
been mainly formed by weathering and transformation of biotite. Warm and humid climatic conditions prevailed for a
major part during the deposition of the detritus which favored weathering and transformation of minerals. During the
terminal phase of sedimentation there was renewed tectonic activity which had a significant impact on climate as pre-
cipitation and mechanical weathering rates increased substantially. Post 1.7 Ma there was a marked shift in temperature
patterns and subsequent cooling of the landmass, which resulted in a decreased vegetation cover and a subsequent de-
crease in animal population thriving on it.
Keywords: Clay Minerals; Climate; Pinjor; Siwalik; Himalaya; India
Clay mineral assemblage of the Late Pliocene-Early Ple-
istocene Pinjor Formation of the type area in northwest-
ern Himalaya is of significant importance in understand-
ing the paleoclimatic and paleotectonic conditions pre-
vailing in the positive and negative areas and their inter-
relationship; types of source rocks, modes of sediment
transport, sedimentation environments and post-deposi-
tional changes experienced by the sediments.
The Himalayan orogenic belt is topographically divid-
ed into three major sub divisions, namely the southern-
most frontal Himalaya comprising the low lying Siwalik
Hills, the middle Lesser Himalaya and the northern Great
Himalayan belt. The Siwalik Group of northwestern Hi-
malaya in India is exposed in a linear fashion along the
Himalayan foothills for a distance of about 2400 km.
from near Jammu in the West to near Tripura in the East.
It represents a huge thickness of sediments ranging from
3300 m to 6300 m  which were deposited in a fore-
deep. The Late Pliocene-Early Pleistocene Pinjor Forma-
tion (1.7 Ma - 2.5 Ma) of the Upper Siwalik Subgroup is
very well exposed in the type area Pinjor and surround-
ing regions (Figure 1). The Formation attains a thickness
of 703 m to 1800 m. It overlies the Tatrot Formation (2.5
Ma - 5.6 Ma) and is underlain by the Boulder Conglo-
merate Formation (0.7 Ma - 1.7 Ma). The Pinjor For-
mation has a conformable gradational contact with un-
derlying and overlying formations. Lithologically, the
Formation consists of poorly to moderately indurated
light grey to pale brown, medium to coarse grained, peb-
bly sandstones and pale brown to chocolate brown sandy
clays. Reference  observed that the Siwalik Group of
the western Himalayan is a product of two coarsening up
mega cycles. The first mega cycle is represented by the
Lower Siwalik/Nahan. Formation which is characterized
opyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
A. R. CHAUDHRI, M. SINGH
45 50' 55 70˚
Figure 1. Geological map of the Pinjor Form ation in the type area Pinjor and surr o unding r egions.
by a slow pace of erosion and sedimentation and stable
paleotectonic conditions. The second mega cycle com-
prising the Middle and the Upper Siwalik formations is
marked by coarsening of the sediments which eventually
indicates a fast rate of degradation processes.
Significant contributions have been made by a number
of workers during the past three decades on various as-
pects of clay minerals. Some of the more important con-
tributions during the past decade have been made by
2. Analytical Techniques
Being extremely small in size, clay minerals require spe-
cial techniques for their investigation. These techniques
include X-ray diffraction, infrared spectroscopy, differ-
ential thermal; thermo-gravimetric; chemical; scanning
electron microscope, neutron scattering, electron spin
resonance, neutron magnetic resonance, mossbauer spec-
troscopy and ultraviolet and visible light spectroscopy
techniques. X-ray diffraction technique has been utilized
for analyzing the clays of the Pinjor Formation mainly
because of availability of instrument and reliability of the
technique. Forty seven representative samples from each
of the measured section and random samples of the Pin-
jor Formation were analyzed for clay mineral studies.
The area of investigation spreads over 504 sq. km. in the
frontal Himalayan terrain. Samples showing variation in
grain size, colour, petrography and modal percentage
were selected for this analysis.
The samples were first crushed to −250 mesh ASTM
sieve size. About 100 gm of the sample powder was
taken from each of the sample and the same was sus-
pended in distilled water kept in 1000 ml measuring jar
for about 24 hours and stirred with perforated stirrer and
then allowed to settle down. The stirring was done after
every 6 - 8 hours. After that the clear water was decanted
off from the jar and fresh distilled water was added. The
process was repeated till the suspension of clay particles
appeared in the standing water column. 100 ml of sus-
pended clays were separated out from a depth of 5 cm
from the top of the standing water column with the help
of pipette. The suspension so collected was put on glass
slides and allowed to dry at the room temperature to ob-
tain slides of oriented aggregates of clay minerals. The
incident X-ray beam from the X-ray machine can be di-
rected down the Z axis of the flat lying plate-shaped phyl-
losilicate minerals in the oriented aggregate slides thus
facilitating the recording of diagnostic basal diffractions.
The Z axis depicts the intensity of d-spacing indicative of
different clay minerals during glycolation and heating
The prepared samples were run on the X-ray machine
operated at 35 kV and 20 mA using nickel filter and
Cu-Kα radiations of wavelength 1.5418 Å. The scanning
speed was maintained at 2˚ per minute. The results were
printed on electronically controlled recorder in the 2θ
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
A. R. CHAUDHRI, M. SINGH 233
range 2˚ - 40˚. The air dried samples were then treated
with ethylene glycol vapours for 24 hours. The same pro-
cess was repeated for obtaining the diffractograms of the
glycolated samples. The diffractograms of the heated
samples were obtained after heating the samples for
about 5 hours at 500˚C in an electric furnace. The dif-
fractograms of the representative air dried, glycolated
and heated samples of the analysed sediments are shown
in the Figures 2-4. The values for the different peaks
were indicated with reference to 2θ angle and subse-
quently converted into molecular plane repeat distances
(d-spacing) in Angstrom (Å) with the help of conversion
tables provided by [18,19]. The conversion is based on
the Bragg’s equation as expressed below:
where θ is the diffraction angle, d is molecular repeat
distance for any multiple “n” of any X-ray wavelength λ.
The SEM analysis of a few selected samples was car-
ried out on JEOL, JSM 6100 scanning microscope. The
samples were sputter coated and scanned for identifica-
tion of the different clay minerals present therein.
3. Clay Mineral Assemblage
The different clay minerals which were identified in the
Pinjor Formation of the type area and adjoining regions
with the help of tables provided by [19-22] include illite,
Figure 2. SEM photomicrographs of illite.
Figure 3. SEM photomicrographs of kaolinite.
Al4[Si7-6.5Al1-1.5O20](OH)8) is the most domi-
photomicrographs of dioctahedral/triocta-
2O5(OH)4) comprises about 15% of the
ponding to 7.16 Å
te, kaolinite, vermiculite and mixed layer cla
nerals (Figures 4-6).
nant clay mineral. It forms about 40% of the total clay
mineral assemblage. The basal spacing at 10 Å shows the
most dominant peak corresponding to basal reflection
along (001) plane. Reflection at 4.98 Å corresponding to
(002) are weaker than those at 3.32 Å. Organic liquids do
not have any effect on the mineral as it contains little or
no inter-layer water. Therefore it does not show any
change on glycolation and remains unaffected on heating
up to 500˚C.
dral illite (Figure 2) reveal a poor to moderately deve-
loped crystalline structure. In some samples illite shows
poorly developed crystalline structure.
31% of the total clay mineral assemblage. The mineral
shows strong reflection along the (003) plane. The 4.75
Å peak is stronger than the 3.56 Å peak. The reflection
along the (001) plane are extremely poor. The peak of the
mineral, which consists of an octahedral layer sandwich-
ed between tetrahedral layers and a single octahedral lay-
er repeating on C, does not show any change after ethy-
lene glycol treatment and heating as it contains little or
no interlayer water.
total clay mineral assemblage.
The reflection at (001) plane corres
more intense than those from (020) and (110) planes.
The peak at 4.36 Å is stronger than the peak at 4.46 Å.
The peaks of the dioctahedral kaolinite remain unaffected
upon ethylene glycol treatment but get destroyed on heat-
ing above 450˚C. Heat treatment helps in distinguishing
kaolinite from chlorite which too has the basal reflection
at 7.12 Å. Crystalline structure of kaolinite is present in a
few SEM photomicrographs (Figure 3).
about 10% of the total clay mineral assemblage. The
peak at 14.4 Å corresponding to (002) plane is stronger
than the peak corresponding to 2.39˚. The reflection along
the (021, 111) planes and along (060, 330, 332) planes are
not distinct. The 14.4 Å peak of the trioctahedral ver-
miculite, containing strongly linked water molecule to
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
A. R. CHAUDHRI, M. SINGH
Figure 4. X-ray diffractograms of clay minerals of select
e layer structure, expands to 15 Å - 16 Å on glycolation
3.5. Mixed-Layer Clay Minerals
t 4% of the total
4. Interpretation of Results
weathering and soil
product of de-
samples of Pinjor Formation of the kona-karaundanwala
but collapses to 10 Å on heating up to 500˚C.
Mixed-layer clay minerals form abou
clay mineral assemblage. These are formed as a conse-
quence of regular, irregular or segregation of alternating
packets which frequently occur in the sediments of the
Pinjor Formation. Irregular mixed-layers are generally
more conspicuous than regular mixed-layers and are cha-
racterized by a series of non-linear reflections which re-
sult due to interference of very close diffracted rays.
Clay minerals are the products of
formation processes. The variation in the clay mineral as-
semblage is indicative of paleoclimatic changes, the cy-
clicity of tectonic activity and diagenetic modifications
experienced by the sedimentary horizon.
Illite in Pinjor Formation is primarily a
tal origin being derived from weathered crystalline
rocks containing felspars and micas in the source areas
Figure 5. X-ray diffractograms of clay minerals of select
nd from soils and pre-existing sedimentary rocks in the
ed by weathering of intermediate and
rmation has been derived from
y weathering of granitic and basic
samples of Pinjor Formation of ghaggar river-chauki nadah
drainage basin of fluvial channel(s) that deposited the
Chlorite is form
sic crystalline rocks and low grade metamorphic rocks.
Millot [23-25] observed that chlorite is stable during
weathering and diagenesis. Reference  recorded that
the mineral forms by aggradation of less organized sheet
minerals, degradation of pre-existing ferromagnesian mi-
nerals and by crystallization of dilute solutions contain-
ing chlorite components.
Chlorite in the Pinjor Fo
eathering of crystalline and metamorphic rocks expos-
ed in the source areas.
Kaolinite is formed b
cks . The presence of kaolinite in the Pinjor For-
mation is mainly attributed to the weathering and subse-
quent leaching of the mineral from these rocks in the
source regions. Silicon and aluminum are the major che-
mical elements needed for kaolinite formation and these
are derived by leaching of potassium felspars and micas
present in the pre-existing rocks. The presence of kaoli-
nite in the Pinjor Formation indicates the prevalence
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
A. R. CHAUDHRI, M. SINGH 235
Figure 6. X-ray diffractograms of clay minerals of selecte
f acidic conditions and presence of relict organic matter
lt of selective fixation of
layer clay minerals are present in the all the
land basin has formed due to flexure
Himalaya rapid uplift of the Siwalik
samples of Pinjor Formation of berwala-mandhna section.
in the source areas and near neutral pH conditions in the
basin of deposition.
Vermiculite forms as a resu
tassium during diagenesis and as a consequence of
alteration of fluorite and illite . The mineral appears
to be closely related to biotite and has been formed by
weathering and transformation of iron bearing mica [29,
30]. Biotite is the most abundant heavy mineral in the
rocks of the Pinjor Formation . Loss of octahedral
cations from biotite during weathering in an acidic envi-
ronment results in selective replacement by Al and for-
mation of vermiculite . An aggressive weathering re-
gime following high precipitation and chemical weath-
ering of felspar and other intermediate weathering pro-
ducts has resulted in its development in the Pinjor For-
mples of the Pinjor Formation. In nature, clay minerals
usually occur intermixed with each other. Environments
rich in Na+ or K+ ions help in the formation of mica and
hydrous aluminosilicate mixed layers.
The Himalayan fore
of the Indian plate caused by the high mass of the evolv-
ing Himalayan mountain belt. Thrust tectonics, isostatic
dynamics and load of overlain sediment have played a
significant role in influencing the basin dynamics. The
Siwalik sediments were deposited in a fore deep and re-
present the detrital products of the rather rapidly evolv-
ing Himalaya. The Himalayan tectonic activity reached
its acme during the Quaternary period. During the period
of deposition (Mid Miocene to Early Pleistocene) of the
Siwalik sediments, the tectonic activity manifested itself
in the formation of numerous fold and thrust structures
, which intermittently increased the local relief trig-
gering heightened erosion of the pre-existing rocks lo-
cated adjacent to fore deep. The growth of the Himalaya
also contributed significantly in altering the atmosphe-
ric circulation pattern and consequent climatic readjust-
ments. The Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM) is perhaps the
single most significant factor influencing the sediment
supply of the foredeep sediments. Tectonic control of cli-
mate is best documented in the development of high re-
lief intercontinental topographic barriers like the Hi-
malayan mountain belt . The rise of the Himalaya
had a significant impact on the surface albedo and the at-
mospheric pressure regime which augmented the mon-
soon precipitation in the Himalayan terrain. Reference
[35,36] suggested that the weathering processes acting in
young orogenic belt consume carbon dioxide and drive
global cooling. Deep sea sediment studies carried out in
the Arabian Sea suggest that the ISM had established
itself as a consequence of the Himalayan Mountain rise
around 10 Ma and the monsoon intensity strengthened
itself from about 8 Ma [37,38]. Evidence from deep sea
drilling in Bengal fan suggested an accelerated uplift of
the Higher Himalaya around 10 Ma and subsequently
after 0.9 Ma [39,40]. Studies from the Indus delta in the
Arabian Sea carried out by  suggest the intensifica-
tion of the Indian summer monsoon after 14 ka.
Sediment supply in mountain regions is a com
rplay of tectonically related rock uplift and degradation
processes influenced by precipitation. Some researchers
favour precipitation as the primary controlling factor for
sediment supply [42,43] while others favour tectonic up-
lift . Reference  linked the volume and exhuma-
tion of the western Himalayan to the intensity of the
ontal range during Early Pleistocene to middle Pleisto-
cene has been reported by . Reference  suggested
that coeval uplift and consequent degradation of the
frontal Lesser Himalaya since 1 Ma in Nepal had a per-
ceptible influence on the composition of clay minerals
observed in the deep sea Bengal Fan sediments. The top
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
A. R. CHAUDHRI, M. SINGH
most horizon of upper Siwalik Subgroup, the Boulder
Conglomerate Formation, which overlies the Pinjor For-
mation is indicative of fresh phase of accelerated uplift of
the frontal range. This uplift, on the basis of dwindling
fossil assemblage, also marks a distinct change in climate
from temperate to a more cool regime. Reference [46,47]
concluded that Siwalik sediments were deposited in shal-
low fast sinking fresh water basin. He observed the im-
prints of Pleistocene glaciations on the megaclasts of the
Upper Siwalik Boulder Conglomerate. He suggested that
Middle Pleistocene orogenic movement were responsible
for the present day relief of Cenozoic sediments.
The characteristic of clay minerals in terms of the mi-
njor Formation are detrital
eir sincere gratitude to Prof.
ral type and abundance is dependent upon three major
factors viz, detrital inheritance, transformation and neo-
formation. Clay minerals serve as reliable indicator of
provenance and environments of sedimentation. Clay mi-
nerals are susceptible to alteration during transportation
and accumulation in varying environments. The mineral
illite is formed by weathering of felspathic and mica-
ceous rock  which is stable in moderate climatic
conditions and remains unaltered during transportation
by fluvial agencies over a short distance of transport .
A temperate environment and moderate weathering con-
ditions have been recorded for the formation of Illite by
. Reference  suggested that illite is formed as a
consequence of absorption of potassium from sea water
by montmorrillonite. Digenetic origin of illite has been
suggested by [6,7,12,52-54]. The clay mineral assem-
blage recorded from the Lower, Middle and Upper Siwa-
lik subgroups in the northwestern Himalaya show varia-
tion in the mineralogy and abundance of different clay
minerals . In Lower Siwalik sediments, illite is the
most dominant clay mineral followed by kaolinite, mixed
layers and vermiculite. Chlorite and montmorillonite are
nearly absent. In Middle Siwalik sediments a similar sce-
nario persists with the difference that the abundance of
vermiculite is severely reduced and montmorillonite is
present in a few samples. In Upper Siwalik Pinjor For-
mation illite is the most dominant mineral followed by
chlorite, kaolinite, vermiculite and mixed layer clay min-
erals. This variation in abundance of clay minerals re-
flects variation in source rocks, change in precipitation
regime consequent to tectonism, variation in weathering
pattern and distance of transport of the detritus and post
depositional alterations/neoformation of the clay mine-
rals. Siwalik sediments record reveals a slow pace of
sedimentation for the Lower and Middle subgroups and a
rather fast pace of sedimentation for the upper Siwalik
subgroup. Degradation of the Himalayan hinterland dur-
ing the deposition of this thick foreland stratigraphic unit
resulted in successive unroofing of the evolving Hima-
laya and exposure of new hitherto buried lithologies to
denudation processes. A variation in rates of tectonic up-
lift at local and regional scales as also uplift along thrusts
and faults caused a change in precipitation levels and ero-
sional patterns. The clay minerals/sediments of the Lower
and the Middle Siwalik subgroups which were buried
under the load of the overlying sediments underwent
The clay minerals of the Pi
nature and have been derived from weathered crystal-
line rocks containing felspars and micas in the source
areas and from soils and pre-existing sedimentary rocks
in the drainage basin of fluvial channel(s) that deposited
the Pinjor sediments . Warm and humid climatic con-
ditions prevailed for a major part during the deposition of
the detritus which favored weathering and transformation
of minerals. The recurrent tectonic activity had a percep-
tible influence on precipitation and chemical/physical
weathering regime. During the terminal phase of sedi-
mentation of the Pinjor Formation there was renewed
tectonic activity which disturbed the sedimentation dyna-
mics. Pebble and boulder sized fragments dominated the
detritus that was transported by mud laden streams and
deposited in the foredeep after a short transport. The tec-
tonic activity at this stage had a significant impact on
climate as precipitation and mechanical weathering rates
increased substantially. This period marked a shift in
temperature patterns and subsequent cooling of the land-
mass, which resulted in a decreased vegetation cover and
a subsequent decrease in animal population thriving on it
during the deposition of the detritus constituting the
overlying Boulder Conglomerate Formation.
The clay mineral assemblage of the Pinjor
flects the climatic evolution from a warm and humid
spell during the major part of the deposition of the detri-
tus to a cool and dry spell during the terminal phases of
its deposition. Although Reference [56-58] and others
have conducted some paleoclimatic studies on Indian
monsoons and their evolution, detailed measurements of
oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in authigenic clays of the
Pinjor Formation could be made use of to estimate the
precipitation patterns prevailing within the Himalayan
foreland basin during the time span of the deposition of
Pinjor Formation. The temperature change during the
deposition of the Pinjor sediments could also be attempt-
ed through clumped isotope temperature analysis or δD
analysis of individual leaf wax biomarkers .
Globally, past Miocene there has been a genera
g trend as global ice volume has increased, which has
resulted in the weakening of the Indian summer monsoon
precipitation regime since 2.7 Ma.
The authors wish to record th
Dr. R. S. Chaudhri for his constant support and guidance.
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Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
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