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Soil Profile Description

Otto Spaargaren
ISRIC – World Soil

The Netherlands
Why soil profile descriptions ?

z In surveys: as typical example of soil mapping

unit or of one of its components

z For research: as baseline record to illustrate

the environmental setting and relationships
between the soil attributes

z For land resource development: as base for

building geo-referenced land information
Guidelines (1)

z FAO Guidelines for

Soil Profile Description.
3rd Edition.

1990 – English
1993 – French
Guidelines (2)

2005. Draft FAO Guidelines for Soil Profile

Description and Classification. 4th Edition

Prepared jointly by
Universität Halle – Würtenberg, Germany
Universität Kiel, Germany
Leyte State University, Philippines
ISRIC – World Soil Information, The
Purpose of the FAO
z To enhance standardization and uniformity of
soil profile descriptions, in order to facilitate
cross-references and comparison between soil

z To contribute, through the objective description

and recording of soil properties, both to the
understanding of the land of which the soil
forms part, and to the reliable transfer of
Sources for the 1990 FAO

z USDA Soil Survey Manual

z Revised Legend of the Soil Map of the World

z Keys to Soil Taxonomy

z Australian Soil and Land Survey Field

Additional sources for the 2005
FAO Guidelines

z World Reference Base for Soil Resources

z USDA Field Book for Describing and Sampling


z 1999 Soil Taxonomy and 2003 Keys to ST

z AG-Boden 2004. KA5: Bodenkundliche

Kartieranleitung – 5. Auflage
Content of the FAO Guidelines

z General information about the soil, both

administratively and environmentally

z Description of the individual soil horizons

z Linkage to computerized information systems,

in particular the FAO-ISRIC Soil Database
General Information Section
z Registration and location
z Soil classification
z Landform and topography
z Land use and vegetation
z Parent material
z Surface characteristics
z Soil-water relationships
General information (1) :
Registration and location
z Profile number
z Soil profile description status
z Date of description
z Author(s)
z Soil unit
z Location
z Elevation
z Map sheet number and grid reference
z Coordinates
General information (2) :
Soil classification

z Soil taxonomic classification

– WRB reference group name
– FAO Legend (1974) and Revised Legend (1988)
Soil Map of the World
– Soil Taxonomy (1999)
– National

z Soil climate
General information (3) :
Landform and topography

z Topography
z Landform
z Land element
z Position
z Slope
z Micro-topography
z Soil-landscape sequential relationships
General information (4) :
Land use and vegetation

z Land use

z Human influence

z Vegetation
General information (5) :
Parent material

z Parent material
– Unconsolidated material
– Rock type

z Effective soil depth

General information (6) :
Surface characteristics

z Rock outcrops
z Surface coarse fragments
z Erosion
z Surface sealing
z Surface cracks

z Other surface characteristics

General information (7) :
Soil-water relationships

z Drainage class
z Internal drainage
z External drainage
z Flooding
z Groundwater

z Moisture conditions of the soil

Soil horizon description
z Horizon designation and dimensions
z Soil colour
z Primary constituents
z Organization of the constituents
z Voids (porosity)
z Concentrations
z Biological activity
z Soil reaction
z Samples
Soil horizon description (1) :
Designation and dimensions

z Horizon symbol – H, O, A, E, B, C and R

master horizon nomenclature, and the
subordinate characteristics within master
horizons and layers

z Horizon boundary – depth, distinctness and

Soil horizon description (2) :
Additional 2005 horizon symbols

New master horizon symbols

z I layer: Ice lenses and wedges that contain at least
75% ice (by volume) and that distinctly separate
organic or mineral layers in the soil

z L layer: Sediment deposited in a body of water

composed of both organic and inorganic materials,
also known as limnic soil material

z W layer: Water layer in soils or flooded soils, where

flooding is either permanent or cyclic
Soil horizon description (3) :

Master horizon designation (1)

Organic horizons:
H or O
H = wet
O = dry
Soil horizon description (4) :

Master horizon designation (2)

Mineral horizons:
A (organic matter)
E (eluviation)
B (illuviation)
C (parent material,
Soil horizon description (5) :

Master horizon designation (3)

Mineral horizons:
R (parent rock)
Soil horizon description (6) :

Subordinate characteristics of master horizons

c Concretions or nodules
f Frozen soil
g Gleying evidenced by mottling
h Accumulation of organic matter
j Jarosite mottling
k Accumulation of carbonates
m Cementation or induration
Soil horizon description (7) :
Subordinate characteristics of master horizons
n Accumulation of sodium
o Residual accumulation of sesquioxides
p Ploughing or other disturbance
q Accumulation of silica
r Strong reduction
s Illuvial accumulation of sesquioxides
t Accumulation of silicate clay
Soil horizon description (8) :
Subordinate characteristics of master horizons
v Occurrence of plinthite
w Development of colour or structure
x Fragipan character
y Accumulation of gypsum
z Accumulation of salts more soluble than gypsum
Soil horizon description (8) :

New 2005 subordinate characteristics of master

horizons (1):
a Highly decomposed organic material
b Buried horizon
c In combination with L: Coprogenous earth
d Dense layer (physically root-restrictive; not
used in combination with m). In combination with
L: Diatomaceous earth
Soil horizon description (9) :

New 2005 subordinate characteristics of master

horizons (2):
e Moderately decomposed organic material
i Slickensides. In combination with H or O:
Slightly decomposed organic material
m In combination with L: Marl
u Urban and other man-made materials
@ Evidence of cryoturbation
Soil horizon description (10) :
Soil colour

z Matrix colour – hue, value and chroma, both

dry and moist, according to the Munsell Soil
Color Charts, or the Revised Standard Soil
Color Charts

z Mottling – abundance, size, contrast,

boundary and colour (dry and moist)
Soil horizon description (11) :
Primary constituents

z Texture of the fine earth fraction – sand,

loamy sand, sandy loam, loam, silt loam, silt,
silty clay loam, silty clay, clay loam, sandy clay
loam, sandy clay, clay

z Rock fragments – gravel, stones, boulders

Soil horizon description (12) :
Organization of soil constituents

z Soil structure – grade, size and type

– Types: single grain, massive, granular, prismatic,
columnar, angular blocky, subangular blocky, platy,
rock structure, stratified structure

z Consistence – dry, moist and wet

Soil horizon description (13) :
Voids (porosity)

Voids include all space in the soil. They are

described in terms of
– Type
– Size
– Abundance
– Continuity
– Orientation
Soil horizon description (14) :

z Cutanic features – clay, humus, pressure

faces, slickensides, iron coatings

z Cementation and compaction – continuity,

structure, nature, degree

z Mineral nodules – abundance, kind, size,

shape, hardness, nature, colour
Soil horizon description (15) :
Biological activity

z Roots – abundance and size

z Biological features – abundance and kind

Soil horizon description (16) :
Soil reaction

z Presence of carbonates – non-calcareous,

slightly calcareous, moderately calcareous,
strongly calcareous and extremely calcareous
(tested with 10% HCl)

z Field pH – Hellige test, field pH meter, NaF

test for volcanic soils
Soil horizon description (17) :
Soil odour

New in the draft Guidelines of 2005 is the

recording of odour. This gives the opportunity
to indicate the presence of petrochemical
substances or sulphurous compounds (the
smell of “rotten eggs”).
Soil horizon description (18) :

Basically, there are two methods of collecting soil

– Sampling in equal proportions over the whole
horizon (recommended method)

– Sampling in equal proportions within a depth of

20cm, either from the centre of the horizon, or at
balanced intervals if the horizon exceeds 50cm
Linkages (1) :
FAO-ISRIC Soil Database (SDB)

z Permits storage and retrieval of large amounts

of field and analytical data

z Provides a flexible coding system to

accommodate local needs

z Can be linked to geographical information

systems (GIS), automated land evaluation
packages, or statistical programs
Linkages (2) :
FAO-ISRIC Soil Database (SDB)

The following data sets can be stored in the SDB:

z Field descriptions: coded information on site
and profile characteristics
z Standard soil analytical results: chemical
analyses, soluble salts

z Soil physical analytical results: infiltration

and water retention data
New developments

In 2003, FAO and CSIC

issued “The Multilingual Soil
Profile Database” (SDBm
Plus), an upgraded and
expanded Windows version
of the SDBm software, which
had replaced the DOS-

based version of SDB.

The USDA Field Book

z Very comprehensive, with numerous useful

diagrams and illustrations

z Introduces new descriptive elements, such as

“redoximorphic features”, “soil crusts”, and

z Provides little linkage to the FAO Guidelines

(e.g. no comparison between particle size
classes of USDA and FAO)
SDBm Plus (1)

z Re-designed and re-written as Windows


z Multilingual (English, French, Spanish,


z Detailed soil profile characterization

SDBm Plus (2)

z Possibility of monitoring the temporal variability

of analytical, physical and hydraulic soil

z Metadata facility for describing analytical

methods and procedures used

z Linkage between database and land

evaluation/geographical information systems

“In view of the high costs of soil survey, soil

profile descriptions should be made as
detailed and comprehensive as possible,
so that they can serve multiple purposes.”