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Soil is a
mixture In chemistry Chemistry is the science, scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science that covers the Chemical element, elements that make up matter to the chemical compound, compounds composed of atoms, ...

mixture
of
organic matter Organic matter, organic material, or natural organic matter refers to the large source of Carbon compounds, carbon-based compounds found within natural and engineered, terrestrial, and aquatic environments. It is matter composed of organic compo ...
,
minerals In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rock (geology), rocks of which it is composed, and the proces ...

minerals
,
gas Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas and plasma). The molecules in a solid are closely packed together and c ...

gas
es,
liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible In fluid mechanics or more generally continuum mechanics, incompressible flow (isochoric process, isochoric flow) refers to a fluid flow, flow in which the material density is constant within a fluid par ...

liquid
s, and
organism In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological me ...

organism
s that together support
life Life is a characteristic that distinguishes physical entities that have biological processes, such as Cell signaling, signaling and self-sustaining processes, from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased (they have Death ...

life
.
Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 70.8% is Water distribution on Earth, covered wit ...

Earth
's body of soil, called the
pedosphere The pedosphere (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approx ...
, has four important
functions Function or functionality may refer to: Computing * Function key A function key is a key on a computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern comp ...
: * as a medium for plant growth * as a means of
water storageWater storage is a broad term referring to storage of both potable Drinking water, also known as potable water, is water Water is an Inorganic compound, inorganic, Transparency and translucency, transparent, tasteless, odorless, and Color ...

water storage
, supply and purification * as a modifier of
Earth's atmosphere File:Atmosphere gas proportions.svg, Composition of Earth's atmosphere by volume, excluding water vapor. Lower pie represents trace gases that together compose about 0.043391% of the atmosphere (0.04402961% at April 2019 concentration ). Number ...
* as a habitat for organisms All of these functions, in their turn, modify the soil and its properties. Soil is also commonly referred to as earth or
dirt Dirty Dicks is a Bishopsgate pub named after Dirty Dick who once owned it and was notoriously filthy.">Dirty_Dick.html" ;"title="Bishopsgate pub named after Dirty Dick">Bishopsgate pub named after Dirty Dick who once owned it and was notorious ...

dirt
; some scientific definitions distinguish ''dirt'' from ''soil'' by restricting the former term specifically to displaced soil. The pedosphere interfaces with the
lithosphere A lithosphere ( grc, λίθος [] for "rocky", and [] for "sphere") is the rigid, outermost shell of a terrestrial planet, terrestrial-type planet or natural satellite. On Earth, it is composed of the crust (geology), crust and the portion o ...
, the
hydrosphere The hydrosphere (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appr ...
, the
atmosphere An atmosphere (from the greek words ἀτμός ''(atmos)'', meaning 'vapour', and σφαῖρα ''(sphaira)'', meaning 'ball' or 'sphere') is a layer or a set of layers of gases surrounding a planet or other material body, that is held in ...

atmosphere
, and the
biosphere The biosphere (from βίος ''bíos'' "life" and σφαῖρα ''sphaira'' "sphere"), also known as the ecosphere (from Greek οἶκος ''oîkos'' "environment" and σφαῖρα), is the worldwide sum of all s. It can also be termed the zo ...
. The term '' pedolith'', used commonly to refer to the soil, translates to ''
ground Ground may refer to: * Soil File:Stagnogley.JPG, Surface-water-Gley soil, gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. Earth's body ...
stone'' in the sense ''fundamental stone'', from the ancient Greek 'ground, earth'. Soil consists of a solid phase of minerals and organic matter (the soil matrix), as well as a
porous Porosity or void fraction is a measure of the (i.e. "empty") spaces in a , and is a of voids over the total volume, between 0 and 1, or as a between 0% and 100%. Strictly speaking, some tests measure the "accessible void", the total amount of vo ...
phase that holds
gases Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid In physics, a fluid is a su ...
(the soil atmosphere) and water (the soil solution). Accordingly, soil scientists can envisage soils as a three-
state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, Un ...
system of solids, liquids, and gases. Soil is a product of several factors: the influence of
climate Climate is the long-term pattern of weather Weather is the state of the atmosphere, describing for example the degree to which it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloud cover, cloudy. On Earth, most weather phenomena ...

climate
,
relief Relief is a sculptural technique where the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material. The term ''wikt:relief, relief'' is from the Latin verb ''relevo'', to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is to give the ...

relief
(elevation, orientation, and slope of terrain), organisms, and the soil's
parent material Parent material is the underlying geological material (generally bedrock or a superficial deposits, superficial or drift (geology), drift deposit) in which soil horizons form. Soils typically inherit a great deal of structure and minerals from the ...
s (original minerals) interacting over time. It continually undergoes development by way of numerous physical, chemical and biological processes, which include
weathering Weathering is the deterioration of rocks In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rock (geology ...
with associated
erosion In , erosion is the action of surface processes (such as or ) that removes , , or dissolved material from one location on the , and then it to another location. Erosion is distinct from which involves no movement. Removal of rock or soil as ...

erosion
. Given its complexity and strong internal
connectedness In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It ...
, soil ecologists regard soil as an
ecosystem An ecosystem (or ecological system) consists of all the organisms and the physical environment with which they interact. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Energy enters the syste ...

ecosystem
. Most soils have a dry
bulk densityBulk density, also called apparent density or volumetric density, is a property of powders, granules, and other "divided" solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas and plasma). The molecu ...
(density of soil taking into account voids when dry) between 1.1 and 1.6 g/cm3, while the soil particle density is much higher, in the range of 2.6 to 2.7 g/cm3. Little of the soil of planet Earth is older than the
Pleistocene The Pleistocene ( , often referred to as the ''Ice Age'') is the geological Epoch (geology), epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. Before a change finally ...
and none is older than the
Cenozoic The Cenozoic ( ; ) is Earth's current geological era An era is a span of time defined for the purposes of chronology or historiography, as in the regnal eras in the history of a given monarchy, a calendar era used for a given calendar, or the ge ...

Cenozoic
, although fossilized soils are preserved from as far back as the
Archean The Archean Eon ( , also spelled Archaean or Archæan) is one of the four geology, geologic eon (geology), eons of Earth, Earth's history, occurring (4 to 2.5 Billion years, Gya). During the Archean, the Earth's Crust (geology), crust had ...

Archean
.
Soil science Soil science is the study of soil Surface-water- gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland.">Northern_Ireland.html" ;"title="glacial till, Northern Ireland">glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic matter, mine ...
has two basic branches of study:
edaphology Edaphology (from Greek , ''edaphos'', "ground",, '' -logia'') is concerned with the influence of soils on living things, particularly plants. It is one of two main divisions of soil science, the other being pedology. Edaphology includes the st ...
and pedology. ''Edaphology'' studies the influence of soils on living things. ''Pedology'' focuses on the formation, description (morphology), and classification of soils in their natural environment. In engineering terms, soil is included in the broader concept of regolith, which also includes other loose material that lies above the bedrock, as can be found on the
Moon The Moon is Earth's only natural satellite. At about one-quarter the diameter of Earth (comparable to the width of Australia (continent), Australia), it is the largest natural satellite in the Solar System relative to the size of its plane ...

Moon
and on other
celestial objects In astronomy, an astronomical object or celestial object is a naturally occurring physical object, physical entity, association, or structure that exists in the observable universe. In astronomy, the terms ''object'' and ''body'' are often use ...
.


Processes

Soil functions as a major component of the
Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The remaining 70.8% is Water distribution on Earth, covered wit ...

Earth
's
ecosystem An ecosystem (or ecological system) consists of all the organisms and the physical environment with which they interact. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Energy enters the syste ...

ecosystem
. The world's ecosystems are impacted in far-reaching ways by the processes carried out in the soil, with effects ranging from
ozone depletion Ozone depletion consists of two related events observed since the late 1970s: a steady lowering of about four percent in the total amount of ozone in Earth, Earth's atmosphere (the ozone layer), and a much larger springtime decrease in stratosphe ...

ozone depletion
and
global warming Contemporary climate change includes both the global warming caused by humans, and its impacts on Earth's weather patterns. There have been , but the current changes are more rapid than any known events in Earth's history. The main cau ...

global warming
to rainforest destruction and
water pollution Water pollution (or aquatic pollution) is the contamination of , usually as a result of human activities, in such a manner that negatively affects its legitimate uses. Water pollution reduces the ability of the body of water to provide the tha ...

water pollution
. With respect to Earth's
carbon cycle The carbon cycle is the biogeochemical cycle In ecology Ecology (from el, οἶκος, "house" and el, -λογία, label=none, "study of") is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physi ...

carbon cycle
, soil acts as an important carbon reservoir, and it is potentially one of the most reactive to human disturbance and climate change. As the planet warms, it has been predicted that soils will add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere due to increased
biological Biology is the natural science Natural science is a branch of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and Taxonomy (general), organizes knowl ...
activity at higher temperatures, a
positive feedback Positive feedback (exacerbating feedback, self-reinforcing feedback) is a process that occurs in a feedback loop Feedback occurs when outputs of a system are routed back as inputs as part of a chain Image:Kettenvergleich.jpg, Roller c ...
(amplification). This prediction has, however, been questioned on consideration of more recent knowledge on soil carbon turnover. Soil acts as an engineering medium, a habitat for
soil organisms Soil biology is the study of Soil microbiology, microbial and faunal activity and ecology in soil. Soil life, soil biota, soil fauna, or edaphon is a collective term that encompasses all organisms that spend a significant portion of their biologic ...
, a recycling system for
nutrients A nutrient is a substance Substance may refer to: * Substance (Jainism), a term in Jain ontology to denote the base or owner of attributes * Chemical substance, a material with a definite chemical composition * Matter, anything that has mass and ta ...
and
organic waste Biodegradable waste includes any organic matter Organic matter, organic material, or natural organic matter refers to the large source of carbon-based compounds found within natural and engineered, terrestrial and aquatic environments. It is ma ...
s, a regulator of
water quality Water quality refers to the Chemical property, chemical, Physical property, physical, and Biology, biological characteristics of water based on the standards of its usage. It is most frequently used by reference to a set of standards against whi ...

water quality
, a modifier of atmospheric composition, and a medium for
plant growth Important structures in plant development are buds, shoots, roots, leaf, leaves, and flowers; plants produce these tissues and structures throughout their life from meristems located at the tips of organs, or between mature tissues. Thus, a living p ...
, making it a critically important provider of
ecosystem services Ecosystem services are the many and varied benefits to humans provided by the natural environment and from healthy . Such ecosystems include, for example, s, s, s and s. These ecosystems, functioning in healthy relationship, offer such things ...
. Since soil has a tremendous range of available
niches
niches
and
habitat Ibex in an alpine habitat In ecology Ecology (from el, οἶκος, "house" and el, -λογία, label=none, "study of") is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment. ...

habitat
s, it contains a prominent part of the Earth's
genetic diversity Genetic diversity is the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species, it ranges widely from the number of species to differences within species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classificati ...
. A gram of soil can contain billions of organisms, belonging to thousands of species, mostly microbial and largely still unexplored. Soil has a
mean There are several kinds of mean in mathematics, especially in statistics. For a data set, the ''arithmetic mean'', also known as arithmetic average, is a central value of a finite set of numbers: specifically, the sum of the values divided by ...
prokaryotic A prokaryote () is a single-celled organism A unicellular organism, also known as a single-celled organism, is an organism In biology, an organism (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ὀργανισμός, ''organismos'') is any individual conti ...
density of roughly 108 organisms per gram, whereas the ocean has no more than 107 prokaryotic organisms per milliliter (gram) of seawater.
Organic carbon Total organic carbon (TOC) is the amount of carbon Carbon (from la, carbo "coal") is a chemical element Image:Simple Periodic Table Chart-blocks.svg, 400px, Periodic table, The periodic table of the chemical elements In chemistry, an ...
held in soil is eventually returned to the atmosphere through the process of
respiration Respiration may refer to: Biology * Cellular respiration, the process in which nutrients are converted into useful energy in a cell ** Anaerobic respiration, cellular respiration without oxygen ** Maintenance respiration, the amount of cellular ...

respiration
carried out by
heterotrophic A heterotroph (; from Ancient Greek "other" and "nutrition") is an organism that cannot produce its own food, instead taking nutrition from other sources of organic carbon, mainly plant or animal matter. In the food chain, heterotrophs are prim ...
organisms, but a substantial part is retained in the soil in the form of soil organic matter;
tillage Tillage is the agricultural Agriculture is the practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary Image:Family watching television 1958.jpg, Exercise trends, Increases in sedentary ...
usually increases the rate of
soil respiration Soil respiration refers to the production of carbon dioxide when soil organisms respire. This includes respiration of plant roots, the rhizosphere, microbes and fauna. Soil respiration is a key ecosystem process that releases carbon from the soil ...
, leading to the depletion of soil organic matter. Since plant roots need oxygen,
aeration Aeration (also called aerification or aeriation) is the Systems engineering process, process by which air is circulated through, mixed with or solvation, dissolved in a liquid. Aeration of liquids Methods Aeration of liquids (usually water) is ach ...

aeration
is an important characteristic of soil. This ventilation can be accomplished via networks of interconnected soil pores, which also absorb and hold rainwater making it readily available for uptake by plants. Since plants require a nearly continuous supply of water, but most regions receive sporadic rainfall, the water-holding capacity of soils is vital for plant survival. Soils can effectively remove impurities, kill disease agents, and degrade
contaminants Contamination is the presence of a constituent, impurity, or some other undesirable element that spoils, corrupts, infects, makes unfit, or makes inferior a material, physical body A bubble of exhaled gas in water In common usage and classical ...
, this latter property being called
natural attenuation In physics, attenuation or, in some contexts, extinction is the gradual loss of flux of \mathbf(\mathbf) with the unit normal vector \mathbf(\mathbf) ''(blue arrows)'' at the point \mathbf multiplied by the area dS. The sum of \mathbf\cdot\m ...
. Typically, soils maintain a net absorption of
oxygen Oxygen is the chemical element Image:Simple Periodic Table Chart-blocks.svg, 400px, Periodic table, The periodic table of the chemical elements In chemistry, an element is a pure substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same ...

oxygen
and
methane Methane (, ) is a chemical compound with the chemical formula A chemical formula is a way of presenting information about the chemical proportions of s that constitute a particular or molecule, using symbols, numbers, and sometimes a ...
and undergo a net release of
carbon dioxide Carbon dioxide (chemical formula A chemical formula is a way of presenting information about the chemical proportions of s that constitute a particular or molecule, using symbols, numbers, and sometimes also other symbols, such as pare ...

carbon dioxide
and
nitrous oxide Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, nitrous, or nos, is a chemical compound A chemical compound is a chemical substance A chemical substance is a form of matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is an ...
. Soils offer plants physical support, air, water, temperature moderation, nutrients, and protection from toxins. Soils provide readily available nutrients to plants and animals by converting dead organic matter into various nutrient forms.


Composition

A typical soil is about 50% solids (45% mineral and 5% organic matter), and 50% voids (or pores) of which half is occupied by water and half by gas. The percent soil mineral and organic content can be treated as a constant (in the short term), while the percent soil water and gas content is considered highly variable whereby a rise in one is simultaneously balanced by a reduction in the other. The pore space allows for the infiltration and movement of air and water, both of which are critical for life existing in soil.
Compaction Compaction may refer to: * Soil compaction In geotechnical engineering#REDIRECT geotechnical engineering {{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from other capitalisation ..., soil compaction is the process in which stress applied to a soil causes ...
, a common problem with soils, reduces this space, preventing air and water from reaching plant roots and soil organisms. Given sufficient time, an undifferentiated soil will evolve a
soil profile A soil horizon is a layer parallel to the soil File:Stagnogley.JPG, Surface-water-Gley soil, gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support ...
which consists of two or more layers, referred to as soil horizons. These differ in one or more properties such as in their
texture Texture may refer to: Science and technology * Surface texture, the texture means smoothness, roughness, or bumpiness of the surface of an object * Texture (roads), road surface characteristics with waves shorter than road roughness * Texture (co ...
,
structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. ...

structure
,
density The density (more precisely, the volumetric mass density; also known as specific mass), of a substance is its per unit . The symbol most often used for density is ''ρ'' (the lower case Greek letter ), although the Latin letter ''D'' can also ...

density
, porosity, consistency, temperature, color, and reactivity. The horizons differ greatly in thickness and generally lack sharp boundaries; their development is dependent on the type of
parent material Parent material is the underlying geological material (generally bedrock or a superficial deposits, superficial or drift (geology), drift deposit) in which soil horizons form. Soils typically inherit a great deal of structure and minerals from the ...
, the processes that modify those parent materials, and the soil-forming factors that influence those processes. The biological influences on soil properties are strongest near the surface, while the geochemical influences on soil properties increase with depth. Mature soil profiles typically include three basic master horizons: A, B, and C. The
solum The solum (plural, sola) in soil science Soil science is the study of soil Surface-water- gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland.">Northern_Ireland.html" ;"title="glacial till, Northern Ireland">glacial till, Northern Ireland. ...
normally includes the A and B horizons. The living component of the soil is largely confined to the solum, and is generally more prominent in the A horizon. It has been suggested that the ''pedon'', a column of soil extending vertically from the surface to the underlying parent material and large enough to show the characteristics of all its horizons, could be subdivided in the ''humipedon'' (the living part, where most soil organisms are dwelling, corresponding to the ''humus form''), the ''copedon'' (in intermediary position, where most
weathering Weathering is the deterioration of rocks In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rock (geology ...
of minerals takes place) and the ''lithopedon'' (in contact with the subsoil). The soil texture is determined by the relative proportions of the individual particles of
sand Sand is a granular material composed of finely divided rock (geology), rock and mineral particles. Sand has various compositions but is defined by its grain size. Sand grains are smaller than gravel and coarser than silt. Sand can also refer ...

sand
,
silt Silt is granular material A granular material is a conglomeration of discrete solid, macroscopic scale, macroscopic particles characterized by a loss of energy whenever the particles interact (the most common example would be friction when gra ...
, and
clay Clay is a type of fine-grained natural soil Surface-water- gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland.">Northern_Ireland.html" ;"title="glacial till, Northern Ireland">glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic m ...

clay
that make up the soil. The interaction of the individual mineral particles with organic matter, water, gases via
biotic Biotics describe living or once living components of a community; for example organisms, such as animals and plants. Biotic may refer to: *Life, the condition of living organisms *Biology, the study of life *Biotic material, which is derived from l ...
and processes causes those particles to
flocculate Flocculation, in the field of chemistry, is a process by which colloidal particles come out of Suspension (chemistry), suspension to sediment under the form of floc or flake, either spontaneously or due to the addition of a clarifying agent. The ...
(stick together) to form or
ped Peds are aggregates of soil particles formed as a result of pedogenic Pedogenesis (from the Greek ''pedo''-, or ''pedon'', meaning 'soil, earth,' and ''genesis'', meaning 'origin, birth') (also termed soil development, soil evolution, soil format ...
s. Where these aggregates can be identified, a soil can be said to be developed, and can be described further in terms of color, porosity, consistency, reaction (
acidity An acid is a molecule A molecule is an electrically Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion Image:Leaving Yongsan Station.jpg, 300px, Motion involves a change in position In phys ...
), etc. Water is a critical agent in soil development due to its involvement in the dissolution, precipitation, erosion, transport, and deposition of the materials of which a soil is composed. The mixture of water and dissolved or suspended materials that occupy the soil pore space is called the soil solution. Since soil water is never pure water, but contains hundreds of dissolved organic and mineral substances, it may be more accurately called the soil solution. Water is central to the
dissolution Dissolution may refer to: Arts and entertainment Books * Dissolution (Forgotten Realms novel), ''Dissolution'' (''Forgotten Realms'' novel), a 2002 fantasy novel by Richard Lee Byers * Dissolution (Sansom novel), ''Dissolution'' (Sansom novel), a 2 ...
,
precipitation In meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the (which include and ), with a major focus on . The study of meteorology dates back , though significant progress in meteorology did not begin until the 18th century. The 19th century saw mod ...
and leaching of minerals from the
soil profile A soil horizon is a layer parallel to the soil File:Stagnogley.JPG, Surface-water-Gley soil, gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support ...

soil profile
. Finally, water affects the type of vegetation that grows in a soil, which in turn affects the development of the soil, a complex feedback which is exemplified in the dynamics of banded vegetation patterns in semi-arid regions. Soils supply plants with
nutrient A nutrient is a substance Substance may refer to: * Substance (Jainism), a term in Jain ontology to denote the base or owner of attributes * Chemical substance, a material with a definite chemical composition * Matter, anything that has mass and t ...
s, most of which are held in place by particles of
clay Clay is a type of fine-grained natural soil Surface-water- gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland.">Northern_Ireland.html" ;"title="glacial till, Northern Ireland">glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic m ...
and organic matter (
colloid A colloid is a mixture In chemistry, a mixture is a material made up of two or more different chemical substances which are not chemically combined. A mixture is the physical combination of two or more substances in which the identities are r ...

colloid
s) The nutrients may be
adsorbed of multilayer adsorption is a random distribution of molecules on the material surface. Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter that forms a chemical element Image:Simple Periodic Table Char ...

adsorbed
on clay mineral surfaces, bound within clay minerals ( absorbed), or bound within organic compounds as part of the living
organisms In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological me ...
or dead soil organic matter. These bound nutrients interact with soil water to buffer the soil solution composition (attenuate changes in the soil solution) as soils wet up or dry out, as plants take up nutrients, as salts are leached, or as acids or alkalis are added. Plant nutrient availability is affected by
soil pH Soil pH is a measure of the acidity An acid is a molecule or ion capable of donating a proton (hydrogen ion H+) (a Brønsted–Lowry acid–base theory, Brønsted–Lowry acid), or, alternatively, capable of forming a covalent bond with an ...
, which is a measure of the
hydrogen Hydrogen is the chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol H and atomic number 1. Hydrogen is the lightest element. At standard temperature and pressure, standard conditions hydrogen is a gas of diatomic molecules having the che ...

hydrogen
ion activity in the soil solution. Soil pH is a function of many soil forming factors, and is generally lower (more acid) where weathering is more advanced. Most plant nutrients, with the exception of
nitrogen Nitrogen is the chemical element upright=1.0, 500px, The chemical elements ordered by link=Periodic table In chemistry Chemistry is the science, scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science ...

nitrogen
, originate from the minerals that make up the soil parent material. Some nitrogen originates from rain as dilute
nitric acid Nitric acid (), also known as ''aqua fortis'' (Latin for "strong water") and spirit of niter, is a highly corrosive mineral acid. The pure compound is colorless, but older samples tend to acquire a yellow cast due to decomposition into nitroge ...

nitric acid
and
ammonia Ammonia is a chemical compound, compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the chemical formula, formula NH3. A Binary compounds of hydrogen, stable binary hydride, and the simplest pnictogen hydride, ammonia is a colourless gas with a distinct ch ...

ammonia
, but most of the nitrogen is available in soils as a result of
nitrogen fixation Nitrogen fixation is a chemical process by which molecular (), with a strong triple , in the is converted into () or related nitrogenous compounds, typically in soil or aquatic systems but also . Atmospheric nitrogen is molecular , a relativel ...
by
bacteria Bacteria (; common noun bacteria, singular bacterium) are ubiquitous, mostly free-living organisms often consisting of one Cell (biology), biological cell. They constitute a large domain (biology), domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typ ...

bacteria
. Once in the soil-plant system, most nutrients are recycled through living organisms, plant and microbial residues (soil organic matter), mineral-bound forms, and the soil solution. Both living soil organisms (microbes, animals and plant roots) and soil organic matter are of critical importance to this recycling, and thereby to
soil formation Pedogenesis (from the Greek ''pedo''-, or ''pedon'', meaning 'soil, earth,' and ''genesis'', meaning 'origin, birth') (also termed soil development, soil evolution, soil formation, and soil genesis) is the process of soil formation as regulated b ...

soil formation
and
soil fertility Soil fertility refers to the ability of soil File:Stagnogley.JPG, Surface-water-Gley soil, gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support li ...
. Microbial
soil enzyme Surface-water- gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland.">Northern_Ireland.html" ;"title="glacial till, Northern Ireland">glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms tha ...
s may release nutrients from minerals or organic matter for use by plants and other microorganisms, sequester (incorporate) them into living cells, or cause their loss from the soil by volatilisation (loss to the atmosphere as gases) or leaching.


Formation

Soil formation, or pedogenesis, is the combined effect of physical, chemical, biological and anthropogenic processes working on soil parent material. Soil is said to be formed when organic matter has accumulated and colloids are washed downward, leaving deposits of clay, humus, iron oxide, carbonate, and gypsum, producing a distinct layer called the B horizon. This is a somewhat arbitrary definition as mixtures of sand, silt, clay and humus will support biological and agricultural activity before that time. These constituents are moved from one level to another by water and animal activity. As a result, layers (horizons) form in the soil profile. The alteration and movement of materials within a soil causes the formation of distinctive soil horizons. However, more recent definitions of soil embrace soils without any organic matter, such as those regoliths that formed on Mars and analogous conditions in planet Earth deserts. An example of the development of a soil would begin with the weathering of lava flow bedrock, which would produce the purely mineral-based parent material from which the soil texture forms. Soil development would proceed most rapidly from bare rock of recent flows in a warm climate, under heavy and frequent rainfall. Under such conditions, plants (in a first stage nitrogen-fixing lichens and cyanobacteria then epilithic higher plants) become established very quickly on basaltic lava, even though there is very little organic material. Basaltic minerals commonly weather relatively quickly, according to the Goldich dissolution series.The plants are supported by the porous rock as it is filled with nutrient-bearing water that carries minerals dissolved from the rocks. Crevasses and pockets, local topography of the rocks, would hold fine materials and harbour plant roots. The developing plant roots are associated with mineral-weathering Mycorrhiza, mycorrhizal fungi that assist in breaking up the porous lava, and by these means organic matter and a finer mineral soil accumulate with time. Such initial stages of soil development have been described on volcanoes, inselbergs, and glacial moraines. How soil formation proceeds is influenced by at least five classic factors that are intertwined in the evolution of a soil. They are: parent material, climate, topography (relief), organisms, and time. When reordered to climate, relief, organisms, parent material, and time, they form the acronym CROPT.


Physical properties

The physical properties of soils, in order of decreasing importance for ecosystem services such as crop production, are texture, structure,
bulk densityBulk density, also called apparent density or volumetric density, is a property of powders, granules, and other "divided" solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas and plasma). The molecu ...
, porosity, consistency, temperature, colour and Soil resistivity, resistivity. Soil texture is determined by the relative proportion of the three kinds of soil mineral particles, called soil separates: sand, silt, and clay. At the next larger scale, soil structures called peds or more commonly ''soil aggregates'' are created from the soil separates when iron oxides, carbonates, clay, silica and humus, coat particles and cause them to adhere into larger, relatively Soil aggregate stability, stable secondary structures. Soil bulk density, when determined at standardized moisture conditions, is an estimate of soil compaction. Soil porosity consists of the void part of the soil volume and is occupied by gases or water. Soil consistency is the ability of soil materials to stick together. Soil temperature and colour are self-defining. Resistivity refers to the resistance to conduction of electric currents and affects the rate of corrosion of metal and concrete structures which are buried in soil. These properties vary through the depth of a soil profile, i.e. through soil horizons. Most of these properties determine the aeration of the soil and the ability of water to infiltrate and to be held within the soil.


Soil moisture

Soil moisture refers to the water content of the soil. It can be expressed in terms of volume or weight. Soil moisture measurement can be based on ''in situ'' probes (e.g., capacitance probes, neutron probes) or remote sensing methods.


Soil gas

The atmosphere of soil, or soil gas, is very different from the atmosphere above. The consumption of oxygen by microbes and plant roots, and their release of carbon dioxide, decrease oxygen and increase carbon dioxide concentration. Atmospheric CO2 concentration is 0.04%, but in the soil pore space it may range from 10 to 100 times that level, thus potentially contributing to the inhibition of root respiration. Calcareous soils regulate CO2 concentration by carbonate Buffering agent, buffering, contrary to acid soils in which all CO2 respired accumulates in the soil pore system. At extreme levels CO2 is toxic. This suggests a possible negative feedback control of soil CO2 concentration through its inhibitory effects on root and microbial respiration (also called 'soil respiration'). In addition, the soil voids are saturated with water vapour, at least until the point of maximal hygroscopicity, beyond which a vapour-pressure deficit occurs in the soil pore space. Adequate porosity is necessary, not just to allow the penetration of water, but also to allow gases to diffuse in and out. Movement of gases is by diffusion from high concentrations to lower, the diffusion coefficient decreasing with soil compaction. Oxygen from above atmosphere diffuses in the soil where it is consumed and levels of carbon dioxide in excess of above atmosphere diffuse out with other gases (including greenhouse gases) as well as water. Soil texture and structure strongly affect soil porosity and gas diffusion. It is the total pore space (porosity) of soil, not the pore size, and the degree of pore interconnection (or conversely pore sealing), together with water content, air turbulence and temperature, that determine the rate of diffusion of gases into and out of soil. Ped#Platy, Platy soil structure and soil compaction (low porosity) impede gas flow, and a deficiency of oxygen may encourage anaerobic bacteria to reduce (strip oxygen) from nitrate NO3 to the gases N2, N2O, and NO, which are then lost to the atmosphere, thereby depleting the soil of nitrogen, a detrimental process called denitrification. Aerated soil is also a net sink of methane CH4 but a net producer of methane (a strong heat-absorbing greenhouse gas) when soils are depleted of oxygen and subject to elevated temperatures. Soil atmosphere is also the seat of emissions of volatiles other than carbon and nitrogen oxides from various soil organisms, e.g. roots, bacteria, fungi, animals. These volatiles are used as chemical cues, making soil atmosphere the seat of interaction networks playing a decisive role in the stability, dynamics and evolution of soil ecosystems. Biogenic substance, Biogenic soil volatile organic compounds are exchanged with the aboveground atmosphere, in which they are just 1–2 orders of magnitude lower than those from aboveground vegetation. Humans can get some idea of the soil atmosphere through the well-known 'after-the-rain' scent, when infiltering rainwater flushes out the whole soil atmosphere after a drought period, or when soil is excavated, a bulk property attributed in a reductionist manner to particular biochemical compounds such as petrichor or geosmin.


Solid phase (soil matrix)

Soil particles can be classified by their chemical composition (mineralogy) as well as their size. The particle size distribution of a soil, its texture, determines many of the properties of that soil, in particular hydraulic conductivity and water potential, but the mineralogy of those particles can strongly modify those properties. The mineralogy of the finest soil particles, clay, is especially important.


Chemistry

The chemistry of a soil determines its ability to supply available Plant nutrition, plant nutrients and affects its physical properties and the health of its living population. In addition, a soil's chemistry also determines its corrosivity, stability, and ability to Sorption, absorb pollutants and to filter water. It is the surface chemistry of mineral and organic colloids that determines soil's chemical properties. A colloid is a small, insoluble particle ranging in size from 1 nanometer to 1 micrometre, micrometer, thus small enough to remain suspended by Brownian motion in a fluid medium without settling. Most soils contain organic colloidal particles called humus as well as the inorganic colloidal particles of clays. The very high specific surface area of colloids and their net electrical charges give soil its ability to hold and release ions. Negatively charged sites on colloids attract and release cations in what is referred to as cation exchange. Cation-exchange capacity (CEC) is the amount of exchangeable cations per unit weight of dry soil and is expressed in terms of milliequivalents of positively charged ions per 100 grams of soil (or centimoles of positive charge per kilogram of soil; cmolc/kg). Similarly, positively charged sites on colloids can attract and release anions in the soil giving the soil anion exchange capacity (AEC).


Cation and anion exchange

The cation exchange, that takes place between colloids and soil water, Buffer solution, buffers (moderates) soil pH, alters soil structure, and purifies percolating water by adsorbing cations of all types, both useful and harmful. The negative or positive charges on colloid particles make them able to hold cations or anions, respectively, to their surfaces. The charges result from four sources. # Isomorphous substitution occurs in clay during its formation, when lower-valence cations substitute for higher-valence cations in the crystal structure. Substitutions in the outermost layers are more effective than for the innermost layers, as the electric charge strength drops off as the square of the distance. The net result is oxygen atoms with net negative charge and the ability to attract cations. # Edge-of-clay oxygen atoms are not in balance ionically as the tetrahedral and octahedral structures are incomplete. # Hydroxyls may substitute for oxygens of the silica layers, a process called hydroxylation. When the hydrogens of the clay hydroxyls are ionised into solution, they leave the oxygen with a negative charge (anionic clays). # Hydrogens of humus hydroxyl groups may also be ionised into solution, leaving, similarly to clay, an oxygen with a negative charge. Cations held to the negatively charged colloids resist being washed downward by water and are out of reach of plant roots, thereby preserving the fertility of soils in areas of moderate rainfall and low temperatures. There is a hierarchy in the process of cation exchange on colloids, as cations differ in the strength of adsorption by the colloid and hence their ability to replace one another (ion exchange). If present in equal amounts in the soil water solution: Al3+ replaces H+ replaces Ca2+ replaces Mg2+ replaces K+ same as NH4+ replaces Na+ If one cation is added in large amounts, it may replace the others by the sheer force of its numbers. This is called law of mass action. This is largely what occurs with the addition of cationic fertilisers (potash, Lime (material), lime). As the soil solution becomes more acidic (low pH, meaning an abundance of H+), the other cations more weakly bound to colloids are pushed into solution as hydrogen ions occupy exchange sites (protonation). A low pH may cause the hydrogen of hydroxyl groups to be pulled into solution, leaving charged sites on the colloid available to be occupied by other cations. This Ionization, ionisation of hydroxy groups on the surface of soil colloids creates what is described as pH-dependent surface charges. Unlike permanent charges developed by isomorphous substitution, pH-dependent charges are variable and increase with increasing pH. Freed cations can be made available to plants but are also prone to be leached from the soil, possibly making the soil less fertile. Plants are able to excrete H+ into the soil through the synthesis of organic acids and by that means, change the pH of the soil near the root and push cations off the colloids, thus making those available to the plant.


Cation exchange capacity (CEC)

Cation exchange capacity should be thought of as the soil's ability to remove cations from the soil water solution and sequester those to be exchanged later as the plant roots release hydrogen ions to the solution. CEC is the amount of exchangeable hydrogen cation (H+) that will combine with 100 grams dry weight of soil and whose measure is one milliequivalents per 100 grams of soil (1 meq/100 g). Hydrogen ions have a single charge and one-thousandth of a gram of hydrogen ions per 100 grams dry soil gives a measure of one milliequivalent of hydrogen ion. Calcium, with an atomic weight 40 times that of hydrogen and with a valence of two, converts to (40/2) x 1 milliequivalent = 20 milliequivalents of hydrogen ion per 100 grams of dry soil or 20 meq/100 g. The modern measure of CEC is expressed as centimoles of positive charge per kilogram (cmol/kg) of oven-dry soil. Most of the soil's CEC occurs on clay and humus colloids, and the lack of those in hot, humid, wet climates (e.g. tropical rainforests), due to leaching and decomposition, respectively, explains the apparent sterility of tropical soils. Live plant roots also have some CEC, linked to their specific surface area.


Anion exchange capacity (AEC)

Anion exchange capacity should be thought of as the soil's ability to remove anions (e.g. nitrate, phosphate) from the soil water solution and sequester those for later exchange as the plant roots release carbonate anions to the soil water solution. Those colloids which have low CEC tend to have some AEC. Amorphous and sesquioxide clays have the highest AEC, followed by the iron oxides. Levels of AEC are much lower than for CEC, because of the generally higher rate of positively (versus negatively) charged surfaces on soil colloids, to the exception of variable-charge soils. Phosphates tend to be held at anion exchange sites. Iron and aluminum hydroxide clays are able to exchange their hydroxide anions (OH) for other anions. The order reflecting the strength of anion adhesion is as follows: :H2PO4 replaces SO42− replaces NO3 replaces Cl The amount of exchangeable anions is of a magnitude of tenths to a few milliequivalents per 100 g dry soil. As pH rises, there are relatively more hydroxyls, which will displace anions from the colloids and force them into solution and out of storage; hence AEC decreases with increasing pH (alkalinity).


Reactivity (pH)

Soil reactivity is expressed in terms of pH and is a measure of the acidity or Base (chemistry), alkalinity of the soil. More precisely, it is a measure of hydronium concentration in an aqueous solution and ranges in values from 0 to 14 (acidic to basic) but practically speaking for soils, pH ranges from 3.5 to 9.5, as pH values beyond those extremes are toxic to life forms. At 25 °C an aqueous solution that has a pH of 3.5 has 10−3.5 mole (unit), moles H3O+ (hydronium ions) per litre of solution (and also 10−10.5 mole/litre OH). A pH of 7, defined as neutral, has 10−7 moles of hydronium ions per litre of solution and also 10−7 moles of OH per litre; since the two concentrations are equal, they are said to neutralise each other. A pH of 9.5 has 10−9.5 moles hydronium ions per litre of solution (and also 10−2.5 mole per litre OH). A pH of 3.5 has one million times more hydronium ions per litre than a solution with pH of 9.5 (9.5–3.5 = 6 or 106) and is more acidic. The effect of pH on a soil is to remove from the soil or to make available certain ions. Soils with high acidity tend to have toxic amounts of aluminium and manganese. As a result of a trade-off between toxicity and requirement most nutrients are better available to plants at moderate pH, although most minerals are more soluble in acid soils. Soil organisms are hindered by high acidity, and most agricultural crops do best with mineral soils of pH 6.5 and organic soils of pH 5.5. Given that at low pH toxic metals (e.g. cadmium, zinc, lead) are positively charged as cations and organic pollutants are in non-ionic form, thus both made more available to organisms, it has been suggested that plants, animals and microbes commonly living in acid soils are pre-adapted to every kind of pollution, whether of natural or human origin. In high rainfall areas, soils tend to acidify as the basic cations are forced off the soil colloids by the mass action of hydronium ions from usual or unusual Acid rain, rain acidity against those attached to the colloids. High rainfall rates can then wash the nutrients out, leaving the soil inhabited only by those organisms which are particularly efficient to uptake nutrients in very acid conditions, like in tropical rainforests. Once the colloids are saturated with H3O+, the addition of any more hydronium ions or aluminum hydroxyl cations drives the pH even lower (more acidic) as the soil has been left with no buffering capacity. In areas of extreme rainfall and high temperatures, the clay and humus may be washed out, further reducing the buffering capacity of the soil. In low rainfall areas, unleached calcium pushes pH to 8.5 and with the addition of exchangeable sodium, soils may reach pH 10. Beyond a pH of 9, plant growth is reduced. High pH results in low micro-nutrient mobility, but water-soluble chelates of those nutrients can correct the deficit. Sodium can be reduced by the addition of gypsum (calcium sulphate) as calcium adheres to clay more tightly than does sodium causing sodium to be pushed into the soil water solution where it can be washed out by an abundance of water.


Base saturation percentage

There are acid-forming cations (e.g. hydronium, aluminium, iron) and there are base-forming cations (e.g. calcium, magnesium, sodium). The fraction of the negatively-charged soil colloid exchange sites (CEC) that are occupied by base-forming cations is called base saturation. If a soil has a CEC of 20 meq and 5 meq are aluminium and hydronium cations (acid-forming), the remainder of positions on the colloids (20-5 = 15 meq) are assumed occupied by base-forming cations, so that the base saturation is 15/20 x 100% = 75% (the compliment 25% is assumed acid-forming cations). Base saturation is almost in direct proportion to pH (it increases with increasing pH). It is of use in calculating the amount of lime needed to neutralise an acid soil (lime requirement). The amount of lime needed to neutralize a soil must take account of the amount of acid forming ions on the colloids (exchangeable acidity), not just those in the soil water solution (free acidity). The addition of enough lime to neutralize the soil water solution will be insufficient to change the pH, as the acid forming cations stored on the soil colloids will tend to restore the original pH condition as they are pushed off those colloids by the calcium of the added lime.


Buffering

The resistance of soil to change in pH, as a result of the addition of acid or basic material, is a measure of the buffering capacity of a soil and (for a particular soil type) increases as the CEC increases. Hence, pure sand has almost no buffering ability, while soils high in colloids (whether mineral or organic) have high buffering capacity. Buffering occurs by cation exchange and Neutralization (chemistry), neutralisation. However, colloids are not the only regulators of soil pH. The role of carbonates should be underlined, too. More generally, according to pH levels, several buffer systems take precedence over each other, from calcium carbonate buffer range to iron buffer range. The addition of a small amount of highly basic aqueous ammonia to a soil will cause the ammonium to displace hydronium ions from the colloids, and the end product is water and colloidally fixed ammonium, but little permanent change overall in soil pH. The addition of a small amount of liming (soil), lime, Ca(OH)2, will displace hydronium ions from the soil colloids, causing the fixation of calcium to colloids and the evolution of CO2 and water, with little permanent change in soil pH. The above are examples of the buffering of soil pH. The general principal is that an increase in a particular cation in the soil water solution will cause that cation to be fixed to colloids (buffered) and a decrease in solution of that cation will cause it to be withdrawn from the colloid and moved into solution (buffered). The degree of buffering is often related to the CEC of the soil; the greater the CEC, the greater the buffering capacity of the soil.


Nutrients

Seventeen elements or nutrients are essential for plant growth and reproduction. They are carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe), boron (B), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni) and chlorine (Cl). Nutrients required for plants to complete their life cycle are considered essential nutrients. Nutrients that enhance the growth of plants but are not necessary to complete the plant's life cycle are considered non-essential. With the exception of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which are supplied by carbon dioxide and water, and nitrogen, provided through nitrogen fixation, the nutrients derive originally from the mineral component of the soil. The Law of the Minimum expresses that when the available form of a nutrient is not in enough proportion in the soil solution, then other nutrients cannot be taken up at an optimum rate by a plant. A particular nutrient ratio of the soil solution is thus mandatory for optimizing plant growth, a value which might differ from nutrient ratios calculated from plant composition. Plant uptake of nutrients can only proceed when they are present in a plant-available form. In most situations, nutrients are absorbed in an Ionic compound, ionic form from (or together with) soil water. Although minerals are the origin of most nutrients, and the bulk of most nutrient elements in the soil is held in crystalline form within primary and secondary minerals, they weather too slowly to support rapid plant growth. For example, the application of finely ground minerals, feldspar and apatite, to soil seldom provides the necessary amounts of potassium and phosphorus at a rate sufficient for good plant growth, as most of the nutrients remain bound in the crystals of those minerals. The nutrients adsorbed onto the surfaces of clay colloids and soil organic matter provide a more accessible reservoir of many plant nutrients (e.g. K, Ca, Mg, P, Zn). As plants absorb the nutrients from the soil water, the soluble pool is replenished from the surface-bound pool. The decomposition of soil organic matter by microorganisms is another mechanism whereby the soluble pool of nutrients is replenished – this is important for the supply of plant-available N, S, P, and B from soil. Gram for gram, the capacity of humus to hold nutrients and water is far greater than that of clay minerals, most of the soil cation exchange capacity arising from charged carboxylic groups on organic matter. However, despite the great capacity of humus to retain water once water-soaked, its high hydrophobicity decreases its wettability. All in all, small amounts of humus may remarkably increase the soil's capacity to promote plant growth.


Soil organic matter

Soil organic matter is made up of organic compounds and includes plant, animal and microbial material, both living and dead. A typical soil has a biomass composition of 70% microorganisms, 22% macrofauna, and 8% roots. The living component of an acre of soil may include 900 lb of earthworms, 2400 lb of fungi, 1500 lb of bacteria, 133 lb of protozoa and 890 lb of arthropods and algae. A few percent of the soil organic matter, with small residence time, consists of the microbial biomass and metabolites of bacteria, molds, and actinomycetes that work to break down the dead organic matter. Were it not for the action of these micro-organisms, the entire carbon dioxide part of the atmosphere would be sequestered as organic matter in the soil. However, in the same time soil microbes contribute to carbon sequestration in the topsoil through the formation of stable humus. In the aim to sequester more carbon in the soil for alleviating the greenhouse effect it would be more efficient in the long-term to stimulate humification than to decrease litter decomposition. The main part of soil organic matter is a complex assemblage of small organic molecules, collectively called humus or humic substances. The use of these terms, which do not rely on a clear chemical classification, has been considered as obsolete. Other studies showed that the classical notion of molecule is not convenient for humus, which escaped most attempts done over two centuries to resolve it in unit components, but still is chemically distinct from polysaccharides, lignins and proteins. Most living things in soils, including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi, are dependent on organic matter for nutrients and/or energy. Soils have organic compounds in varying degrees of decomposition which rate is dependent on temperature, soil moisture, and aeration. Bacteria and fungi feed on the raw organic matter, which are fed upon by protozoa, which in turn are fed upon by nematodes, annelids and arthropods, themselves able to consume and transform raw or humified organic matter. This has been called the soil food web, through which all organic matter is processed as in a digestive system. Organic matter holds soils open, allowing the infiltration of air and water, and may hold as much as twice its weight in water. Many soils, including desert and rocky-gravel soils, have little or no organic matter. Soils that are all organic matter, such as peat (histosols), are infertile. In its earliest stage of decomposition, the original organic material is often called raw organic matter. The final stage of decomposition is called humus. In grassland, much of the organic matter added to the soil is from the deep, fibrous, grass root systems. By contrast, tree leaves falling on the forest floor are the principal source of soil organic matter in the forest. Another difference is the frequent occurrence in the grasslands of fires that destroy large amounts of aboveground material but stimulate even greater contributions from roots. Also, the much greater acidity under any forests inhibits the action of certain soil organisms that otherwise would mix much of the surface litter into the mineral soil. As a result, the soils under grasslands generally develop a thicker A horizon with a deeper distribution of organic matter than in comparable soils under forests, which characteristically store most of their organic matter in the forest floor (O horizon) and thin A horizon.


Humus

Humus refers to organic matter that has been decomposed by soil microflora and fauna to the point where it is resistant to further breakdown. Humus usually constitutes only five percent of the soil or less by volume, but it is an essential source of nutrients and adds important textural qualities crucial to soil health and plant growth. Humus also feeds arthropods, Termite, termites and Earthworm, earthworms which further improve the soil. The end product, humus, is suspended in colloidal form in the soil solution and forms a weak acid that can attack silicate minerals by Chelation, chelating their iron and aluminum atoms. Humus has a high cation and anion exchange capacity that on a dry weight basis is many times greater than that of clay colloids. It also acts as a buffer, like clay, against changes in pH and soil moisture. Humic acids and fulvic acids, which begin as raw organic matter, are important constituents of humus. After the death of plants, animals, and microbes, microbes begin to feed on the residues through their production of extra-cellular soil enzymes, resulting finally in the formation of humus. As the residues break down, only molecules made of aliphatic compound, aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbon, aromatic hydrocarbons, assembled and stabilized by oxygen and hydrogen bonds, remain in the form of complex molecular assemblages collectively called humus. Humus is never pure in the soil, because it reacts with metals and clays to form complexes which further contribute to its stability and to soil structure. While the structure of humus has in itself few nutrients (with the exception of constitutive metals such as calcium, iron and aluminum) it is able to attract and link, by weak bonds, cation and anion nutrients that can further be released into the soil solution in response to selective root uptake and changes in soil pH, a process of paramount importance for the maintenance of fertility in tropical soils. Lignin is resistant to breakdown and accumulates within the soil. It also reacts with proteins, which further increases its resistance to decomposition, including enzymatic decomposition by microbes. Fats and waxes from plant matter have still more resistance to decomposition and persist in soils for thousand years, hence their use as tracers of past vegetation in buried soil layers. Clay soils often have higher organic contents that persist longer than soils without clay as the organic molecules adhere to and are stabilised by the clay. Proteins normally decompose readily, to the exception of scleroproteins, but when bound to clay particles they become more resistant to decomposition. As for other proteins clay particles absorb the enzymes exuded by microbes, decreasing enzyme activity while protecting extracellular enzymes from degradation. The addition of organic matter to clay soils can render that organic matter and any added nutrients inaccessible to plants and microbes for many years, while a study showed increased soil fertility following the addition of mature compost to a clay soil. High soil tannin content can cause nitrogen to be sequestered as resistant tannin-protein complexes. Humus formation is a process dependent on the amount of plant material added each year and the type of base soil. Both are affected by climate and the type of organisms present. Soils with humus can vary in nitrogen content but typically have 3 to 6 percent nitrogen. Raw organic matter, as a reserve of nitrogen and phosphorus, is a vital component affecting Fertile soil, soil fertility. Humus also absorbs water, and expands and shrinks between dry and wet states to a higher extent than clay, increasing soil porosity. Humus is less stable than the soil's mineral constituents, as it is reduced by microbial decomposition, and over time its concentration diminishes without the addition of new organic matter. However, humus in its most stable forms may persist over centuries if not millennia. Charcoal is a source of highly stable humus, called black carbon, which had been used traditionally to improve the fertility of nutrient-poor tropical soils. This very ancient practice, as ascertained in the genesis of Amazonian dark earths, has been renewed and became popular under the name of biochar. It has been suggested that biochar could be used to sequester more carbon in the fight against the greenhouse effect.


Climatological influence

The production, accumulation and degradation of organic matter are greatly dependent on climate. For example, when a Thaw (weather), thawing event occurs, the flux of Soil gas, soil gases with atmospheric gases is significantly influenced. Temperature, soil moisture and topography are the major factors affecting the accumulation of organic matter in soils. Organic matter tends to accumulate under wet or cold conditions where decomposer activity is impeded by low temperature or excess moisture which results in anaerobic conditions. Conversely, excessive rain and high temperatures of tropical climates enables rapid decomposition of organic matter and leaching of plant nutrients. Forest ecosystems on these soils rely on efficient recycling of nutrients and plant matter by the living plant and microbial biomass to maintain their productivity, a process which is disturbed by human activities. Excessive slope, in particular in the presence of cultivation for the sake of agriculture, may encourage the erosion of the top layer of soil which holds most of the raw organic material that would otherwise eventually become humus.


Plant residue

Cellulose and hemicellulose undergo fast decomposition by fungi and bacteria, with a half-life of 12–18 days in a temperate climate. Wood-decay fungus, Brown rot fungi can decompose the cellulose and hemicellulose, leaving the lignin and Phenols, phenolic compounds behind. Starch, which is an energy storage system for plants, undergoes fast decomposition by bacteria and fungi. Lignin consists of polymers composed of 500 to 600 units with a highly branched, amorphous structure, linked to cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin in plant cell walls. Lignin undergoes very slow decomposition, mainly by white rot fungi and actinomycetes; its half-life under temperate conditions is about six months.


Horizons

A horizontal layer of the soil, whose physical features, composition and age are distinct from those above and beneath, is referred to as a soil horizon. The naming of a horizon is based on the type of material of which it is composed. Those materials reflect the duration of specific processes of soil formation. They are labelled using a shorthand notation of letters and numbers which describe the horizon in terms of its colour, size, texture, structure, consistency, root quantity, pH, voids, boundary characteristics and presence of nodules or concretions. No soil profile has all the major horizons. Some, called entisols, may have only one horizon or are currently considered as having no horizon, in particular incipient soils from unreclaimed mining waste deposits, moraines, volcanic cones sand dunes or alluvial terraces. Upper soil horizons may be lacking in truncated soils following wind or water ablation, with concomitant downslope burying of soil horizons, a natural process aggravated by agricultural practices such as tillage. The growth of trees is another source of disturbance, creating a micro-scale heterogeneity which is still visible in soil horizons once trees have died. By passing from a horizon to another, from the top to the bottom of the soil profile, one goes back in time, with past events registered in soil horizons like in sediment layers. Sampling pollen, testate amoebae and plant remains in soil horizons may help to reveal environmental changes (e.g. climate change, land use change) which occurred in the course of soil formation. Soil horizons can be dated by several methods such as radiocarbon, using pieces of charcoal provided they are of enough size to escape pedoturbation by earthworm activity and other mechanical disturbances. Fossil soil horizons from paleosols can be found within sedimentary rock sequences, allowing the study of past environments. The exposure of parent material to favourable conditions produces mineral soils that are marginally suitable for plant growth, as is the case in eroded soils. The growth of vegetation results in the production of organic residues which fall on the ground as litter for plant aerial parts (leaf litter) or are directly produced belowground for subterranean plant organs (root litter), and then release dissolved organic matter. The remaining surficial organic layer, called the forest floor, O horizon, produces a more active soil due to the effect of the organisms that live within it. Organisms colonise and break down organic materials, making available nutrients upon which other plants and animals can live. After sufficient time, humus moves downward and is deposited in a distinctive organic-mineral surface layer called the A horizon, in which organic matter is mixed with mineral matter through the activity of burrowing animals, a process called pedoturbation. This natural process does not go to completion in the presence of conditions detrimental to soil life such as strong acidity, cold climate or pollution, stemming in the accumulation of undecomposed organic matter within a single organic horizon overlying the mineral soil and in the juxtaposition of humified organic matter and mineral particles, without intimate mixing, in the underlying mineral horizons.


Classification

Soil is classified into categories in order to understand relationships between different soils and to determine the suitability of a soil in a particular region. One of the first classification systems was developed by the Russian scientist Vasily Dokuchaev around 1880. It was modified a number of times by American and European researchers, and developed into the system commonly used until the 1960s. It was based on the idea that soils have a particular morphology based on the materials and factors that form them. In the 1960s, a different classification system began to emerge which focused on soil morphology instead of parental materials and soil-forming factors. Since then it has undergone further modifications. The World Reference Base for Soil Resources (WRB) aims to establish an international reference base for soil classification.


Uses

Soil is used in agriculture, where it serves as the anchor and primary nutrient base for plants. The types of soil and available moisture determine the species of plants that can be cultivated. Agricultural soil science was the primeval domain of soil knowledge, long time before the advent of pedology in the 19th century. However, as demonstrated by aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics, soil material is not an absolute essential for agriculture, and soilless cropping systems have been claimed as the future of agriculture for an endless growing mankind. Soil material is also a critical component in mining, construction and landscape development industries. Soil serves as a foundation for most construction projects. The movement of massive volumes of soil can be involved in surface mining, road building and dam construction. Earth sheltering is the architectural practice of using soil for external thermal mass against building walls. Many building materials are soil based. Loss of soil through urbanization is growing at a high rate in many areas and can be critical for the maintenance of subsistence agriculture. Soil resources are critical to the environment, as well as to food and fibre production, producing 98.8% of food consumed by humans. Soil provides minerals and water to plants according to several processes involved in plant nutrition. Soil absorbs rainwater and releases it later, thus preventing floods and drought, flood regulation being one of the major ecosystem services provided by soil. Soil cleans water as it percolates through it. Soil is the habitat for many organisms: the major part of known and unknown biodiversity is in the soil, in the form of earthworms, woodlice, millipedes, centipedes, snails, slugs, mites, springtails, Enchytraeidae, enchytraeids, nematodes, protists), bacteria, archaea, fungi and algae; and most organisms living above ground have part of them (plants) or spend part of their Biological life cycle, life cycle (insects) below-ground. Above-ground and below-ground biodiversities are tightly interconnected, making soil protection of paramount importance for any Environmental restoration, restoration or Nature conservation, conservation plan. The biological component of soil is an extremely important carbon sink since about 57% of the biotic content is carbon. Even in deserts, cyanobacteria, lichens and mosses form biological soil crusts which capture and sequester a significant amount of carbon by photosynthesis. Poor farming and grazing methods have degraded soils and released much of this sequestered carbon to the atmosphere. Restoring the world's soils could offset the effect of increases in greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming, while improving crop yields and reducing water needs. Waste management often has a soil component. Septic drain fields treat septic tank effluent using Aerobic organism, aerobic soil processes. Land application of waste water relies on soil biology to aerobically treat Biochemical oxygen demand, BOD. Alternatively, Landfills use soil for daily cover, isolating waste deposits from the atmosphere and preventing unpleasant smells. Composting is now widely used to treat aerobically solid domestic waste and dried effluents of settling basins. Although compost is not soil, biological processes taking place during composting are similar to those occurring during decomposition and humification of soil organic matter. Organic soils, especially peat, serve as a significant fuel and horticulture, horticultural resource. Peat soils are also commonly used for the sake of agriculture in Nordic countries, because peatland sites, when drained, provide fertile soils for food production. However, wide areas of peat production, such as rain-fed sphagnum bogs, also called blanket bogs or raised bogs, are now protected because of their patrimonial interest. As an example, Flow Country, covering 4,000 square kilometres of rolling expanse of blanket bogs in Scotland, is now candidate for being included in the World Heritage List. Under present-day global warming peat soils are thought to be involved in a self-reinforcing (positive feedback) process of increased emission of greenhouse gases (methane and carbon dioxide) and increased temperature, a contention which is still under debate when replaced at field scale and including stimulated plant growth. Geophagy is the practice of eating soil-like substances. Both animals and humans occasionally consume soil for medicinal, recreational, or religious purposes. It has been shown that some monkeys consume soil, together with their preferred food (tree foliage and fruits), in order to alleviate tannin toxicity. Soils filter and purify water and affect its chemistry. Rain water and pooled water from ponds, lakes and rivers percolate through the soil horizons and the upper Stratum, rock strata, thus becoming groundwater. Pest (organism), Pests (viruses) and pollutants, such as persistent organic pollutants (chlorinated pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls), oils (hydrocarbons), heavy metals (lead, zinc, cadmium), and excess nutrients (nitrates, sulfates, phosphates) are filtered out by the soil. Soil organisms metabolise them or immobilise them in their biomass and necromass, thereby incorporating them into stable humus. The physical integrity of soil is also a prerequisite for avoiding landslides in rugged landscapes.


Degradation

Land degradation refers to a human-induced or natural process which impairs the capacity of land (economics), land to function. Soil degradation involves Soil acidification, acidification, soil contamination, contamination, desertification,
erosion In , erosion is the action of surface processes (such as or ) that removes , , or dissolved material from one location on the , and then it to another location. Erosion is distinct from which involves no movement. Removal of rock or soil as ...

erosion
or Soil salinity, salination. Soil acidification is beneficial in the case of alkaline soils, but it degrades land when it lowers crop productivity, soil biological activity and increases soil vulnerability to contamination and erosion. Soils are initially acid and remain such when their parent materials are low in basic cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium). On parent materials richer in mineral weathering, weatherable minerals acidification occurs when basic cations are Leaching (pedology), leached from the soil profile by rainfall or exported by the harvesting of forest or agricultural crops. Soil acidification is accelerated by the use of acid-forming nitrogenous fertilizers and by the effects of acid precipitation. Deforestation is another cause of soil acidification, mediated by increased leaching of soil nutrients in the absence of tree canopies. Soil contamination at low levels is often within a soil's capacity to treat and assimilate waste material. Soil biota can treat waste by transforming it, mainly through microbial Enzyme, enzymatic activity. Soil organic matter and soil minerals can adsorb the waste material and decrease its toxicity, although when in colloidal form they may transport the adsorbed contaminants to subsurface environments. Many waste treatment processes rely on this natural bioremediation capacity. Exceeding treatment capacity can damage soil biota and limit soil function. Derelict soils occur where industrial contamination or other development activity damages the soil to such a degree that the land cannot be used safely or productively. Environmental remediation, Remediation of derelict soil uses principles of geology, physics, chemistry and biology to degrade, attenuate, isolate or remove soil contaminants to restore soil functions and values. Techniques include Leaching (chemistry), leaching, air sparging, soil conditioners, phytoremediation, bioremediation and In situ bioremediation, Monitored Natural Attenuation (MNA). An example of diffuse pollution with contaminants is copper accumulation in vineyards and orchards to which fungicides are repeatedly applied, even in organic farming. Desertification is an environmental process of ecosystem degradation in arid and semi-arid regions, often caused by badly adapted human activities such as overgrazing or excess harvesting of firewood. It is a common misconception that drought causes desertification. Droughts are common in arid and semiarid lands. Well-managed lands can recover from drought when the rains return. Soil management tools include maintaining soil nutrient and organic matter levels, reduced tillage and increased cover. These practices help to control erosion and maintain productivity during periods when moisture is available. Continued land abuse during droughts, however, increases land degradation. Increased population and livestock pressure on marginal lands accelerates desertification. It is now questioned whether present-day climate warming will favour or disfavour desertification, with contradictory reports about predicted rainfall trends associated with increased temperature, and strong discrepancies among regions, even in the same country. Erosion of soil is caused by Water erosion#Rainfall, water, Water erosion#Wind erosion, wind, Water erosion#Glaciers, ice, and Water erosion#Mass movement, movement in response to gravity. More than one kind of erosion can occur simultaneously. Erosion is distinguished from
weathering Weathering is the deterioration of rocks In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rock (geology ...
, since erosion also transports eroded soil away from its place of origin (soil in transit may be described as sediment). Erosion is an intrinsic natural process, but in many places it is greatly increased by human activity, especially unsuitable land use practices. These include agriculture, agricultural activities which leave the soil bare during times of heavy rain or strong winds, overgrazing, deforestation, and improper construction activity. Improved management can limit erosion. Soil conservation#Erosion prevention, Soil conservation techniques which are employed include changes of land use (such as replacing erosion-prone crops with grass or other soil-binding plants), changes to the timing or type of agricultural operations, Terrace (agriculture), terrace building, use of erosion-suppressing cover materials (including Cover crop#Water management, cover crops and Soil bioengineering#Technical functions, other plants), limiting disturbance during construction, and avoiding construction during erosion-prone periods and in erosion-prone places such as steep slopes. Historically, one of the best examples of large-scale soil erosion due to unsuitable land-use practices is wind erosion (the so-called Dust Bowl, dust bowl) which ruined American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s, when immigrant farmers, encouraged by the federal government of both countries, settled and converted the original shortgrass prairie to agricultural crops and cattle ranching. A serious and long-running water erosion problem occurs in China, on the middle reaches of the Yellow River and the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. From the Yellow River, over 1.6 billion tons of sediment flow each year into the ocean. The sediment originates primarily from water erosion (gully erosion) in the Loess Plateau region of northwest China. Soil piping is a particular form of soil erosion that occurs below the soil surface. It causes levee and dam failure, as well as Sinkhole, sink hole formation. Turbulent flow removes soil starting at the mouth of the Seep (hydrology), seep flow and the subsoil erosion advances up-gradient. The term sand boil is used to describe the appearance of the discharging end of an active soil pipe. Soil salination is the accumulation of free salts to such an extent that it leads to degradation of the agricultural value of soils and vegetation. Consequences include corrosion damage, reduced plant growth, erosion due to loss of plant cover and soil structure, and
water quality Water quality refers to the Chemical property, chemical, Physical property, physical, and Biology, biological characteristics of water based on the standards of its usage. It is most frequently used by reference to a set of standards against whi ...

water quality
problems due to sedimentation. Salination occurs due to a combination of natural and human-caused processes. Arid conditions favour salt accumulation. This is especially apparent when soil parent material is saline. Surface irrigation, Irrigation of arid lands is especially problematic. All irrigation water has some level of salinity. Irrigation, especially when it involves leakage from canals and overirrigation in the field, often raises the underlying water table. Rapid salination occurs when the land surface is within the capillary fringe of saline groundwater. Soil salinity control involves watertable control and leaching model, flushing with higher levels of applied water in combination with tile drainage or another form of Drainage system (agriculture), subsurface drainage.


Reclamation

Soils which contain high levels of particular clays with high swelling properties, such as smectites, are often very fertile. For example, the smectite-rich Paddy field, paddy soils of Thailand's Central Thailand, Central Plains are among the most productive in the world. However, the overuse of mineral nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides in Irrigation, irrigated intensive Rice production in Thailand, rice production has endangered these soils, forcing farmers to implement integrated farming, integrated practices based on Cost Reduction Operating Principles (CROP). Many farmers in tropical areas, however, struggle to retain organic matter and clay in the soils they work. In recent years, for example, productivity has declined and soil erosion has increased in the low-clay soils of northern Thailand, following the abandonment of shifting cultivation for a more permanent land use. Farmers initially responded by adding organic matter and clay from Mound-building termites, termite mound material, but this was Sustainability, unsustainable in the long-term because of rarefaction of termite mounds. Scientists experimented with adding bentonite, one of the smectite family of clays, to the soil. In field trials, conducted by scientists from the International Water Management Institute in cooperation with Khon Kaen University and local farmers, this had the effect of helping retain water and nutrients. Supplementing the farmer's usual practice with a single application of 200 kg bentonite per rai (6.26 rai = 1 hectare) resulted in an average yield increase of 73%. Other studies showed that applying bentonite to degraded sandy soils reduced the risk of crop failure during drought years. In 2008, three years after the initial trials, International Water Management Institute, IWMI scientists conducted a survey among 250 farmers in northeast Thailand, half of whom had applied bentonite to their fields. The average improvement for those using the clay addition was 18% higher than for non-clay users. Using the clay had enabled some farmers to switch to growing vegetables, which need more fertile soil. This helped to increase their income. The researchers estimated that 200 farmers in northeast Thailand and 400 in Cambodia had adopted the use of clays, and that a further 20,000 farmers were introduced to the new technique. If the soil is too high in clay or salts (e.g. saline sodic soil), adding gypsum, washed river sand and organic matter (e.g.municipal solid waste) will balance the composition. Adding organic matter, like ramial chipped wood or compost, to soil which is depleted in nutrients and too high in sand will boost its quality and improve production. Special mention must be made of the use of charcoal, and more generally biochar to improve nutrient-poor tropical soils, a process based on the higher fertility of anthropogenic Pre-Columbian era, pre-Columbian Amazonian Dark earth, Dark Earths, also called Terra Preta de Índio, due to interesting physical and chemical properties of soil black carbon as a source of stable humus. However, the uncontrolled application of Charring, charred waste products of all kinds may endanger soil life and human health.


History of studies and research

The history of the study of soil is intimately tied to humans' urgent need to provide food for themselves and forage for their animals. Throughout history, civilizations have prospered or declined as a function of the availability and productivity of their soils.


Studies of soil fertility

The Greek historian Xenophon (450–355 Before the Common Era, BCE) is credited with being the first to expound upon the merits of green-manuring crops: "But then whatever weeds are upon the ground, being turned into earth, enrich the soil as much as dung." Columella's ''Of husbandry'', circa 60 Common Era, CE, advocated the use of lime and that clover and alfalfa (green manure) should be turned under, and was used by 15 generations (450 years) under the Roman Empire until its collapse. From the fall of Rome to the French Revolution, knowledge of soil and agriculture was passed on from parent to child and as a result, crop yields were low. During the European Middle Ages, Ibn al-'Awwam, Yahya Ibn al-'Awwam's handbook, with its emphasis on irrigation, guided the people of North Africa, Spain and the Middle East; a translation of this work was finally carried to the southwest of the United States when under Spanish influence. Olivier de Serres, considered as the father of French agronomy, was the first to suggest the abandonment of fallowing and its replacement by hay meadows within crop rotations, and he highlighted the importance of soil (the French terroir) in the management of vineyards. His famous book contributed to the rise of modern, sustainable agriculture and to the collapse of old agricultural practices such as soil amendment for crops by the lifting of forest litter and assarting, which ruined the soils of western Europe during the Middle Ages and even later on according to regions. Experiments into what made plants grow first led to the idea that the ash left behind when plant matter was burned was the essential element but overlooked the role of nitrogen, which is not left on the ground after combustion, a belief which prevailed until the 19th century. In about 1635, the Flemish chemist Jan Baptist van Helmont thought he had proved water to be the essential element from his famous five years' experiment with a willow tree grown with only the addition of rainwater. His conclusion came from the fact that the increase in the plant's weight had apparently been produced only by the addition of water, with no reduction in the soil's weight. John Woodward (naturalist), John Woodward (d. 1728) experimented with various types of water ranging from clean to muddy and found muddy water the best, and so he concluded that earthy matter was the essential element. Others concluded it was humus in the soil that passed some essence to the growing plant. Still others held that the vital growth principal was something passed from dead plants or animals to the new plants. At the start of the 18th century, Jethro Tull (agriculturist), Jethro Tull demonstrated that it was beneficial to cultivate (stir) the soil, but his opinion that the stirring made the fine parts of soil available for plant absorption was erroneous. As chemistry developed, it was applied to the investigation of soil fertility. The French chemist Antoine Lavoisier showed in about 1778 that plants and animals must [combust] oxygen internally to live and was able to deduce that most of the 165-pound weight of van Helmont's willow tree derived from air. It was the French agriculturalist Jean-Baptiste Boussingault who by means of experimentation obtained evidence showing that the main sources of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen for plants were air and water, while nitrogen was taken from soil. Justus von Liebig in his book ''Organic chemistry in its applications to agriculture and physiology'' (published 1840), asserted that the chemicals in plants must have come from the soil and air and that to maintain soil fertility, the used minerals must be replaced. Liebig nevertheless believed the nitrogen was supplied from the air. The enrichment of soil with guano by the Incas was rediscovered in 1802, by Alexander von Humboldt. This led to its mining and that of Chilean nitrate and to its application to soil in the United States and Europe after 1840. The work of Liebig was a revolution for agriculture, and so other investigators started experimentation based on it. In England John Bennet Lawes and Joseph Henry Gilbert worked in the Rothamsted Research, Rothamsted Experimental Station, founded by the former, and that plants took nitrogen from the soil, and that salts needed to be in an available state to be absorbed by plants. Their investigations also produced the superphosphate, consisting in the acid treatment of phosphate rock. This led to the invention and use of salts of potassium (K) and nitrogen (N) as fertilizers. Ammonia generated by the production of coke (fuel), coke was recovered and used as fertiliser. Finally, the chemical basis of nutrients delivered to the soil in manure was understood and in the mid-19th century chemical fertilisers were applied. However, the dynamic interaction of soil and its life forms still awaited discovery. In 1856 J. Thomas Way discovered that ammonia contained in fertilisers was transformed into nitrates, and twenty years later Robert Warington proved that this transformation was done by living organisms. In 1890 Sergei Winogradsky announced he had found the bacteria responsible for this transformation. It was known that certain legumes could take up nitrogen from the air and fix it to the soil but it took the development of bacteriology towards the end of the 19th century to lead to an understanding of the role played in nitrogen fixation by bacteria. The symbiosis of bacteria and leguminous roots, and the fixation of nitrogen by the bacteria, were simultaneously discovered by the German agronomist Hermann Hellriegel and the Dutch microbiologist Martinus Beijerinck. Crop rotation, mechanisation, chemical and natural fertilisers led to a doubling of wheat yields in western Europe between 1800 and 1900.


Studies of soil formation

The scientists who studied the soil in connection with agricultural practices had considered it mainly as a static substrate. However, soil is the result of evolution from more ancient geological materials, under the action of biotic and abiotic processes. After studies of the improvement of the soil commenced, other researchers began to study soil genesis and as a result also soil types and classifications. In 1860, in Mississippi, Eugene W. Hilgard (1833-1916) studied the relationship between rock material, climate, vegetation, and the type of soils that were developed. He realised that the soils were dynamic, and considered the classification of soil types. Unfortunately his work was not continued. At about the same time, Friedrich Albert Fallou was describing soil profiles and relating soil characteristics to their formation as part of his professional work evaluating forest and farm land for the principality of Saxony. His 1857 book, (First principles of soil science) established modern soil science. Contemporary with Fallou's work, and driven by the same need to accurately assess land for equitable taxation, Vasily Dokuchaev led a team of soil scientists in Russia who conducted an extensive survey of soils, observing that similar basic rocks, climate and vegetation types lead to similar soil layering and types, and established the concepts for soil classifications. Due to language barriers, the work of this team was not communicated to western Europe until 1914 through a publication in German by Konstantin Glinka, a member of the Russian team. Curtis F. Marbut, influenced by the work of the Russian team, translated Glinka's publication into English, and as he was placed in charge of the U.S. National Cooperative Soil Survey, applied it to a national soil classification system.


See also


References


Bibliography

* * * ** ** ** ** **


Further reading


Soil-Net.com
A free schools-age educational site teaching about soil and its importance. * Adams, J.A. 1986. ''Dirt''. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press * Certini, G., Scalenghe, R. 2006. Soils: Basic concepts and future challenges. Cambridge Univ Press, Cambridge. * David R. Montgomery, ''Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations'', * Faulkner, Edward H. 1943. Plowman's Folly. New York, Grosset & Dunlap.
LandIS Free Soilscapes Viewer
Free interactive viewer for the Soils of England and Wales * Jenny, Hans. 1941
Factors of Soil Formation: A System of Quantitative Pedology
* Logan, W.B. 1995. Dirt: The ecstatic skin of the earth. * Mann, Charles C. September 2008. " Our good earth" ''National Geographic Magazine'' * Photographs of sand boils. * Soil Survey Division Staff. 1999. ''Soil survey manual''. Soil Conservation Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture Handbook 18. * Soil Survey Staff. 1975. ''Soil Taxonomy: A basic system of soil classification for making and interpreting soil surveys.'' USDA-SCS Agric. Handb. 436. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.
Soils (Matching suitable forage species to soil type)
Oregon State University * * Janick, Jules. 2002

Purdue University
LandIS Soils Data for England and Wales
a pay source for GIS data on the soils of England and Wales and soils data source; they charge a handling fee to researchers.


External links

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