SciSun: Can you Dig It?   Leave a comment

What’s something we see every day, but probably don’t notice? That supports us all, but doesn’t seem to have anything supporting it? It’s not really dirty, but often called dirt? It’s Soil, which isn’t just something to walk on but is actually complex combinations of organic (plants and animals) and inorganic (rocks and minerals) matter that forms the outermost layer of the Earth.

Very simply, there are six main types of soil: Sand; Silt; Peat; Clay; Loam and Chalk. Within each of these types are various unique combinations which have different properties, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. This information is important to anyone working with or on the soil – everyone from farmers to architects to environmental researchers to engineers. It’s so important, Soil Scientists study and catalog the properties of soil and how it’s different, or similar, in areas that are hundreds of miles apart, or just a few feet.

But Soil isn’t just for Scientists anymore! Now, anyone who’s interested in seeing what’s under their feet can check out SoilWeb, a database of soils in the United States from coast to coast. Much of the information is precise measurements of material composition, chemical balance, and soil hydrology, so checking the site won’t automatically tell you the best location for that volleyball court you’re putting up; but this year SoilWeb was linked with Google Maps, so it’s easy to see where to find Sandy Loam or Clay Silt. Unless these are guys you went to school with, and then you can just wait to see them at the next reunion.

Sure this is all interesting, but what does it mean to you? For one thing, identifying different types of soil can help determine where, and what types of buildings and streets are constructed. Before moving into that new house, wouldn’t it be nice to know if the ground underneath could sink or crumble? And specific soil types can help identify the location of water sources, or underground aquifers, that are vital as the human population grows and more and more people want more and more water. And for anyone thinking of planting a tree or starting a garden, knowing if your soil is poor in nutrients or dry and chalky could be the difference between a summer of shade and fresh vegetables, or a season of hard work with disappointing results.

Here's a photo of soil.  Someones been digging.  Probably a scientist.  Maybe a rabbit.  Or a badger.  But a badger wouldn't pack lunch in a sandwich bag.   They prefer grab-and-go.

Here’s a photo of soil. Someone’s been digging. Probably a scientist. Maybe a rabbit. Or a badger. But a badger wouldn’t pack lunch in a sandwich bag. They prefer grab-and-go.

The SoilWeb surveys are based on information going as far back as the 1930’s, when most of the interest was in agricultural land. Each survey dug small test holes about five feet down, or until they reached bedrock – the compacted, extremely hard, rocky substrate that lays underneath soil. (Although soil depth can vary from a few inches in some locations, to hundreds of feet. Some places have virtually no soil at all. And in other places ‘Bedrock’ is the home of caveman cartoon characters).

But no matter what type of soil, the entire ecosystem of Earth depends on these mixtures of sand and rock and fallen leaves and worms and microbes and decomposing animals. Some scientists believe we know less about the complexity of the soils we see every day, than we do about geology of the moon. So for anyone who lives on or in or near soil – and that’s just about everyone – knowing more about the soil that supports us all, is worth digging into.


Michonne Says: I always sleep on the ground, and sometimes it’s rocky.  Does that make it Bed-rock?

Posted June 2, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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