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Professional Paper 1270

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Element Concentrations in Soils and Other Surficial Materials of the Conterminous United States

By Hansford T. Shacklette and Josephine G. Boerngen

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Samples of soils or other regoliths, taken at a depth of approximately 20 cm from locations about 80 km apart throughout the conterminous United States, were analyzed for their content of elements. In this manner, 1,318 sampling sites were chosen, and the results of the sample analyses for 50 elements were plotted on maps. The arithmetic and geometric mean, the geometric deviation, and a histogram showing frequencies of analytical values are given for 47 elements.

The lower concentrations of some elements (notably, aluminum, barium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and strontium) in most samples of surficial materials from the Eastern United States, and the greater abundance of heavy metals in the same materials of the Western United States, indicates a regional geochemical pattern of the largest scale. The low concentrations of many elements in soils characterize the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Soils of the Pacific Northwest generally have high concentrations of aluminum, cobalt, iron, scandium, and vanadium, but are low in boron. Soils of the Rocky Mountain region tend to have high concentrations of copper, lead, and zinc. High mercury concentrations in surficial materials are characteristic of Gulf Coast sampling sites and the Atlantic coast sites of Connecticut, Massachuetts, and Maine. At the State level, Florida has the most striking geochemical pattern by having soils that are low in the concentrations of most elements considered in this study. Some smaller patterns of element abundance can be noted, but the degree of confidence in the validity of these patterns decreases as the patterns become less extensive.

Version 1.0

Posted January 2007

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