Types of Soil Formations
By Catalina Bixler, eHow Contributor
Types of Soil Formations
Soil comes in three basic kinds: sand, silt and clay. Most soils are a combination of the three. Types of soils depend on the variations in the weather, moisture and location in combination with the percentages of rock and living and degrading biological substances. Color, texture and weight characterize much of the diversity between sand, silt and clay. Soil variation results from mixtures of simultaneous and interdependent processes from five specific categories. These differences may exist within a region or between regions of land. Understanding the five processes toward developing types of soil provides a view of one of nature's ongoing and profound sources of life-giving amalgams. These five processes are: parent material; climate; topography; biological factors; and time.
Glacial action forms parent material to make soil.
Parent material is the primary geological material in which soil forms. Very few soils form directly from the rock beneath it. These soils are called residual soils and are only found deep beneath the Earth's surface (untouched by atmospheric conditions) or in newly deposited rock formed from such things as freshly ejected volcanic lava. Most soils form from a combination of geological material (usually bedrock) and secondary deposits transported by glaciers, water, weather and volcanoes.
Humans. sleet. snow. Living organisms greatly affect the soil formation. The ways in which humans use the soil affects it.
Weather affects parent material to form soil. heat.
3. thus changing the organic makeup of the soil. Also.
How land lays on the planet affects environment on soil formation. Wind can move soil from one locaton to another. Precipitation affects the ions and particles in soil and the rate at which the soil develops.
. wind and sunshine also affect the soil. The plants that grow in the soil and the amount of water and nutrients that they need affects the soil formation. desert climates there is little ground over and the soil (sand) therefore is more susceptible to being blown from one area to another. animals and microorganisms affect soil formation. as well as dead plants and animals all become incorporated into the soil.
4. plants. animals that use the land and add their waste to it. The animal waste.2. in arid. The vegetational cover is important in trying to preserve the makeup of the soil. All of these factors affect what types of plants will grow in the soil.
Cycle of biological decomposition affects soil. Moisture and temperature affect how much leaching (water movement through the layers of a soil's profile) and weathering takes place. For instance.
Natural forces such as rain.
25% air. and even daily. and 5% organic matter. Soils with more exposure to the sun are drier while soil located at the bottom of a hill. air and water. have considerably more organic matter in them (greater than 50% of the solid portion of the soil in some
Five Factors of Soil Formation Generalized Theory of Soil Genesis Stages of Soil Formation
. one way or the other. Some wetland soils. and life supporting) are a result of time influencing the combination of parent material. The composition of soil profiles from weakly developed (environmentally benign) to well developed (nutrient rich. The ratio of airfilled pore space to water-filled pore space often changes seasonally. Types of plants. depending on water additions through precipitation. mineral accumulations and the addition (accretion) and removal (erosion) of soil by water all directly affect the soil. Soil air and water are found in the pore spaces between the solid soil particles. groundwater discharge. by several processes. weekly.
5. however. Most introductory soil textbooks describe the ideal soil (ideal for the growth of most plants) as being composed of 45% minerals.
Soil Composition While a nearly infinite variety of substances may be found in soils. How land lays affects the types of soil development. organic matter. drainage. In reality. 25% water.The location of the soil influences the type of soil formation. and flooding. Organic matter content is usually much lower than 5% in South Carolina (typically 1% or less). The volume of the pore space itself can be altered. biological makeup. these percentages of the four components vary tremendously. for instance. climate and typography. they are categorized into four basic components: minerals. throughflow. absorbs more rainfall. erosion.
). The two that have been key in our basic understanding of soils and soil formation are those of Hans Jenny (1941) and Roy W. In some cases these sediments were reworked by wind. rock that weathers and breaks down. When a stream of water is concentrated through a small channel. 4. or landscape position. include both liquids and gases. Parent Material . Finer textured soils were probably once marshes and other backwater areas that were protected from strong ocean waves and currents. Recognizing these factors is extremely useful for field scientists when looking over a landscape and predicting the soil types that are found upon it. Time. 3. (This is the reason sluices were
. (Fluids.usually refers to vegetation and microorganisms. Five Factors of Soil Formation Jenny (1941) addressed the question of which environmental factors are responsible for the soils we have today. Relief.A number of conceptual models of soil formation have been postulated over the years. Climate. while the fluids that deposited sandy sediments were moving fast enough to retain suspended silts and clays. 2. Soils of alluvial origin (flood plain soils) also vary in texture. etc. non-alluvial soils in the ACE Basin study area were likely once beach and dune deposits. How do these factors determine the types of soils found in the ACE Basin study area? Parent Material Parent materials in the ACE Basin study area were mostly deposited by the ocean or rivers and streams. but includes the complete biological community. 5. from sands to clays.What was there before soil formation began?(Possibilities include mud deposited by a river. in this context. Organisms . These factors include the following: 1. Muds high in silt and clay were deposited by slow-moving or still air and water. Simonson (1959).on both large and small scales. sand deposited by ocean. its flow rate is more rapid than when the same amount of water on the same slope is spread out over a wider area.) Sandy. The principle to remember is that fluids with higher energy (fast-moving and/or large waves) can hold larger particles than fluids with lower energy.
The presence of calcium carbonate in soil drastically changes the soil chemistry. Finer and finer particles are dropped the farther out the floodwaters' reach. One of the most notable effects that soil organisms have on soils in the ACE Basin study area is on the amount of organic matter that is present. The larger. Clay-sized particles settle out in these areas. the part of the soil to which the organic matter is added and translocated. and the community of organisms that colonize the soil. Finer sediments in the flood plain may also be buried or eroded away by a meandering channel.) Climate Climate affects soils by governing the rate at which chemical reactions can take place and the amount of percolating water that translocates materials from one part of the soil to another. SOM tends to build up because theanaerobic soil bacteria are less efficient than their aerobic cousins at decomposing it. and thereby the chemical processes that occur. Dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) is a wellknown indicator species used by soil scientists to identify calcareous soils in the field. Sandy stream channel sediments may be buried by the finer sediments of ponded backwaters and oxbow lakes. The whole area has a warm. All these scenarios result in differences in the soils that subsequently form on these sites. In some cases. near the banks. In wetland soils. Differences in soil types from one part of the Basin to another are not attributed to climatic change. which is conducive to relatively high chemical reaction rates responsible for chemical
. Floodwaters often create ponds on the outer margins of flood plains. heavier sand particles drop out first. Organisms Organisms affect the type of organic matter that is added to the soil. The deposition of soil parent materials on flood plains is further complicated because the stream meanders back and forth. Other important parent materials in the ACE Basin study area are those high in calcium carbonates. the rate at which the organic matter is decomposed. When a river floods and overflows onto its flood plain. and the types of chemical reactions that occur in the soil. a natural sandy levee forms on either bank of the river. moist climate most of the year. The climate and its effects on soil change on a regional basis in areas of low relief like the ACE Basin study area and the rest of the Southeastern Coastal Plain.constructed for old water-powered mills. its velocity immediately decreases and it starts dropping itssediment load. (See related section: Decomposers. since this species requires soils with a near neutral to alkaline pH. A plethora of marine organisms leaves some sort of calcareous remains that have a profound effect on soils that form in sediments that include these materials.) River water confined within the river's banks moves at a higher velocity than when the river floods and its waters spread over the flood plain.
it drains into the low areas on the landscape. The organisms living on or in these wetter soils must have ways of adapting to the limited availability of soil air. Vegetation has hydrophytic characteristics. all attributable to the topography 's effect on soil water. these five factors are not always independent of each other. While the soils of the ACE Basin study area are all fairly young. Changes in elevation of only a few feet produce major changes on soil properties in this region. This is all conducive to relatively rapid rates of soil formation. water runs downhill.weathering and biological activity.) Relief Local relief is the environmental factor that has the greatest effect on the soils of the ACE Basin study area.
. Often. organisms living on the topographic high points must be adapted to xeric conditions. On the other hand. The original intent of Jenny's factors of soil formation model was to develop a numerical equation that used information on each factor to determine the characteristics of the resultant soil. The youngest landforms and soils are closest to the ocean gradually increasing in age inland. sandy beach and dune ridges. Young soils show only minimal profile development—often only an A horizon overlying a C horizon. Obviously. Soils in lowlying areas are saturated closer to the surface for longer periods of time than soils on higher ground. and soil bacteria are either anaerobes or facultative anaerobes. Simply stated. In addition. the origins of the landforms making up these topographic highs are old. When water drains from the soil on local topographic highs. It is unlikely that this will come to pass. However. Soils that form there drain quickly and retain very little water. this increase in soil development is still evident. soil is a highly complex system that is only partly understood. Time All pedogenic (soil forming) processes occur over time. Jenny's model has proved invaluable to field soil scientists and landscape ecologists the world over. additional subsurface horizons form. As the soil matures with time. The development of soil through time can be easily observed in the Southern Coastal Plain. (See related section: Climatology. These two different soil conditions affect both the soil chemistry and the amounts of organic matter added to the soil each year.
such as those outlined by Jenny (1941). Instead of concentrating on the external factors that influence the type of soil that forms in a given location. The processes of decay also transform the organic matter into different organic substances. usually in gaseous forms that escape to the atmosphere. 3. removals. Some SOM may leach with percolating rainwater to deeper horizons. The rate of these changes is controlled by environmental factors. 2. Organic matter is added to soils as plant and animal remains. The formation of a recognizable A horizon takes decades or. Pioneer species (most often grasses and alga in this area) live and die. Simonson's conceptual model of soil genesis takes a different approach. transformations. only at different rates. The next step is the buildup of organic materials at the surface. centuries.
Simonson (1959) uses the changes that organic matter undergoes in soil as an example. Similar examples can be made with mineral substances. 4. The A horizon starts to form once enough organic matter has been transformed by soil biota into humic materials. transfers. Horizon differentiation is divided into four basic categories of changes: 1. the accumulation of parent materials. The action of organisms removes some of this SOM as it decays. he divides soil formation into two steps: 1. he considers the pedogenic processes that occurred within the soil body. often at the surface. Stages of Soil Formation All soil formation begins with the accumulation of parent material. Simonson (1959) further postulates that all the changes that occur in our many different soils occur in ALL soils. and the differences among soils are due to the varying rates of all these processes. and 2. and organic matter begins to build up on the surface of the material and also beneath the surface in the rooting zone. The humic materials coat the soil particles. First. The ultimate result of the pedogenic changes is the soil that exists today.Generalized Theory of Soil Genesis Roy W. coloring them brown and black. in some cases. additions.
. the differentiation of horizons in the profile.
Silicate clay minerals completely break down into iron and aluminum oxides. It is likely that the largely insoluble iron and aluminum cations and oxides move in complex with dissolved organic material (chelation). The E horizon is usually the same texture as the A horizon. This steady state is affected by certain environmental changes. or sometimes as it is deposited on the surface (especially wind-blown clays). such as the Southeast region of the United States. Clays in B horizon weather to less active minerals (kaolinite). This occurs in tropical climates. like calcium. and magnesium. While some of these metal oxide clays exist in South Carolina soils. potassium. suspended clays. The E horizon forms as the top of B horizon moves deeper into the soil. The acidic cations. "Bases" are leached from soil. Certain cations are referred to as acids or bases in soil science. and the soil particles are largely stripped of staining agents. These materials include humic substances. Minerals continue to weather. including climatic change and vegetational succession (or cultivation). Soil is extremely infertile. The A horizon will increase in thickness and SOM content. including iron and aluminum. The loss of basic cations results in low fertility soils. and metals. are so called because their presence in the soil tends to decrease pH. In some forested areas. they do not dominate. until it reaches a steady state in which the rate of fresh organic matter additions equals the losses by decay. such as organic matter and metal oxides. and also in complex with suspended clay minerals.
.The B horizon begins to form as dissolved and suspended materials are carried downward to greater depths with percolating rainwater. illuviation. These bases are often plant macro-nutrients. The B horizon will continue to receive illuviated material as it is formed in the A horizon. This results in a “gap” between the A horizon and the B horizon. These materials have elluviated from the E into the B horizon. salts. The A horizon continues to increase in thickness. and the B horizon continues to develop. even though they do not fit any chemical definition of the term. including aluminum and iron cations.) The presence of the basic cations in large amounts usually coincides with neutral to high pH soil systems. (The reactions responsible for this will not be explained here. the movement of illuvial materials occurs at a faster rate than the illuvial materials are formed (largely clays and organic matter). and erosion.