Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 43

SOIL SCIENCE LECTURE NOTES

(2014)

By

Jacqueline Abbo

pg.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.

INTRODUCTION.................................................................................................... 3
1.1
1.1.1
1.1.2

1.2

2.

2.1.1
2.1.2
2.1.3
2.1.4
2.1.5

2.2

2.2.1
2.2.2
2.2.3
2.2.4
2.2.5

Soil Formation Factors.........................................................................................5


Soil Parent Material................................................................................................................................................5
Climate...................................................................................................................................................................5
Topography (Relief)................................................................................................................................................6
Biotic Activity.........................................................................................................................................................6
Time....................................................................................................................................................................... 6

Formation of Inorganic Soils................................................................................7

Rocks......................................................................................................................................................................7
Physical weathering...............................................................................................................................................7
Chemical weathering.............................................................................................................................................8
Inter-relationship between Physical and Chemical Weathering.............................................................................8
Rate of weathering.................................................................................................................................................9

Master horizons and layers................................................................................11

BASIC PHYSICAL PROPERTIES..............................................................................12


4.1
4.1.1
4.1.2

4.2
4.2.1
4.2.2
4.2.3
4.2.4
4.2.5

4.3

4.3.1
4.3.2
4.3.3
4.3.4

4.4

4.4.1
4.4.2
4.4.3
4.4.4
4.4.5
4.4.6
4.4.7

4.5

5.

Importance of Soils.............................................................................................4

THE SOIL PROFILE............................................................................................... 11


3.1

4.

Soil Minerals...........................................................................................................................................................3
Soil organic matter.................................................................................................................................................4

SOIL FORMATION AND DEVELOPMENT....................................................................5


2.1

3.

Composition of soil..............................................................................................3

Soil Texture.......................................................................................................12
Soil textural classes.............................................................................................................................................12
Determination of soil texture...............................................................................................................................14

Soil Structure....................................................................................................15
Spherical Peds......................................................................................................................................................16
Rectilinear Peds....................................................................................................................................................16
The Structure Grade............................................................................................................................................17
Soil structure formation.......................................................................................................................................18
Soil structure stability..........................................................................................................................................18

Soil Colour........................................................................................................18

Colour as a Guide to Soil Use...............................................................................................................................19


Soil colour description..........................................................................................................................................19
The Munsell system of colour notation................................................................................................................19
Munsell Soil Color Charts.....................................................................................................................................20

Soil Density, ...................................................................................................21

Particle density s................................................................................................................................................21


Bulk density, b (dry density)...............................................................................................................................21
Soil Porosity, p......................................................................................................................................................21
Permeability.........................................................................................................................................................22
Total (wet density), t..........................................................................................................................................22
Void ratio, e..........................................................................................................................................................22
Soil wetness, .....................................................................................................................................................22

Stages of Soil Formation....................................................................................23

CHEMICAL PROPERTIES OF SOIL..........................................................................24


5.1
5.1.1
5.1.2
5.1.3

5.2
5.2.1
5.2.2
5.2.3

5.3

5.3.1
5.3.2
5.3.3

5.4
5.4.1
5.4.2

5.5
5.6
5.7
5.7.1

Soil pH:.............................................................................................................24
Measuring Soil pH................................................................................................................................................24
How pH Affects Nutrients, Minerals and Growth..................................................................................................24
Changes in Soil pH...............................................................................................................................................26

Salinity (EC)......................................................................................................26
How soil salinity affects plant growth..................................................................................................................26
Factors affecting soil salinity................................................................................................................................27
Prevention and Management of Soil Salinity.......................................................................................................27

Cation exchange capacity (CEC).........................................................................29

Base Saturation....................................................................................................................................................30
CEC and Availability of Nutrients.........................................................................................................................30
Anion Exchange...................................................................................................................................................30

Organic matter..................................................................................................31
Non- humified & humified organic matter:..........................................................................................................31
Sources of organic matter...................................................................................................................................31

Plant tissue.......................................................................................................31
Animals.............................................................................................................31
Soil organisms..................................................................................................31
Types of materials present in organic matter:.....................................................................................................32
pg.

5.7.2

5.8

5.8.1
5.8.2

6.

Composition of plant tissues:...............................................................................................................................32

C:N ratio (Carbon to Nitrogen)...........................................................................33

Importance of the C:N ration in soil.....................................................................................................................34


Calculation Procedures of Carbon Nitrogen Ratio................................................................................................34

THE COLLOIDAL NATURE OF SOIL.........................................................................36


6.1
6.1.1

6.2

6.2.1
6.2.2
6.2.3
6.2.4
6.2.5
6.2.6

Soil Colloids......................................................................................................36
Classification of colloids.......................................................................................................................................36

Clays.................................................................................................................36

Mineralogy of clay................................................................................................................................................36
Groups of silicate clays........................................................................................................................................38
Sources of negative charge on silicate clay mineral...........................................................................................39
Non-Crystalline Silicate Clays..............................................................................................................................40
Oxide Clays..........................................................................................................................................................40
Cation Exchange..................................................................................................................................................40

pg.

1. INTRODUCTION
The definition of soil varies depending on the person considering it. To a civil engineer planning a construction
site, soil is whatever unconsolidated material happens to be found at the surface. To a miner, it is just some
worthless material that is in the way and must be removed in order to access the required mineral. To a
farmer, it is the medium that will nourish and supply water to the crops. Even soil scientists may hold differing
definitions, depending on their area of study.
The knowledge of soil science is aimed at introducing concepts and principles so that afterwards, one is able
to appreciate soils as media for plant growth, reactor in waste disposal and foundation for roads and
buildings, to mention but a few. There are different types of soil study, namely pedlogical study (The study
of soil in relation to its characteristics, formation and distribution without emphasizing its utility or uses) and
edaphological study (The study of soil emphasizing the organisms interactions with man as a major
manipulating player). In this course, we shall mostly focus on the former and less on the latter.
Soil comprises of particles up to about 2mm diameter. They have horizons, roughly parallel to the earths
surface, that indicate the degree to which materials have been altered and redistributed by water, gravity,
and organisms. Individual soils occupy distinct places in the landscape, so we find patterns of soils and
landscape features.
Landscapes and soils on them, together with the biota, are arranged and respond to their temporal and
spatial distributions of water, nutrients and energy. And in particular, landscapes control the distribution of
energy, water and nutrients.
Soil properties reflect the progressive alteration and redistributions of nutrients, minerals and organic matter
over time.

1.1

Composition of soil

Soil, in all stages of formation right from the parent material, is made up of two types of materials usually
mixed together, namely organic materials and inorganic materials.
Soil comprises of soil-air/atmosphere, the soil-water (hydrosphere 1), mineral-material (lithosphere 2) and
organic-material or organisms (Biosphere 3). These constituents are often referred to as soil phases. The soil
phases are dynamic, i.e. they change with time and space and they are interactive. The ratio of air-filled pore
space to water-filled pore space often changes seasonally, weekly, and even daily, depending on water
additions through precipitation, throughflow, groundwater discharge, and flooding. The volume of the pore
space itself can be altered, one way or the other, by several processes.
1.1.1

Soil Minerals

Almost any mineral that exists may be found in some soil, somewhere. The broad and deep subject area of
soil mineralogy shall not be discussed here in detail; Only some of the elementary basics shall be discussed.
The mineral portion of soil is divided into three particle-size classes: sand, silt, and clay. [Note: Sand, silt, and
clay are collectively referred to as the fine earth fraction of soil. They are <2 mm in diameter. Larger soil
particles are referred to as rock fragments and have their own size classes (pebbles, cobbles, and boulders).
Mineralogically, sand, and silt are just small particles of rock and are largely inert. The two important
differences among them are their relative capacity to hold water that is available for uptake by plants and
their effects on soil drainage.
Clay particles are mineralogically different from sand and silt. We shall discuss these details later.

Hydrosphere is the portion of Earth's surface that is water, including the seas and water in the atmosphere
Lithosphere is the solid outer layer of the Earth above the asthenosphere, consisting of the crust and upper mantle
3
Biosphere is the whole area of Earth's surface, atmosphere, and sea that is inhabited by living things
2

pg.

1.1.2

Soil organic matter

Soil organic matter (SOM) is a complex mixture of substances that can be highly variable in its chemical
content. It ranges from freshly deposited plant and animal parts to the residual humus stable organic
compounds that are relatively resistant to further rapid decomposition.
The elemental composition of SOM includes carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.
Nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur are plant nutrients that are slowly released during decomposition and are
then available to plants, as well as other soil organisms. Other elemental nutrients may also be held in
complex SOM.

1.2

Importance of Soils

Soil is a vital part of the natural environment. It is just as important as plants, animals, rocks, landforms and
rivers. It influences the distribution of plant species and provides a habitat for a wide range of organisms.
Soils are important because they Filter water, Regulate the flow of water and chemical substances between
the atmosphere and the earth, Provide habitat for millions of species of organisms, provide water, nutrients
and support for plants, acts as both a source and store for gases (like oxygen and carbon dioxide) in the
atmosphere e.g. it impounds carbon from the atmosphere, serve as a compost bin for the earth, moderate
and regulate distributions of solar energy and provide a historical record of the influences of climate and
living organisms upon the parent material from/in which the soil is formed.

pg.

2. SOIL FORMATION AND DEVELOPMENT.


Soil formation (pedogenesis) is a complex process that does not follow a linear path of development. While
some soils do form in place, most soils form in mineral or organic substrates (parent materials) that have
been displaced from their source of origin.

2.1

Soil Formation Factors

There are basically five factors that control the formation of soil, namely:
i) Parent Material
ii) Climate
iii) Topography
iv) Biotic Activity (contribution of Living organisms and man)
v) Time
It is helpful to consider four basic processes as a framework for understanding how the five soil forming
factors affect soil development. These four processes are:
a) Additions [surface or subsurface]
b) Removals [ditto]
c) Transformations [chemical weathering, turnover]
d) Translocations [secondary clay minerals, base cations]

2.1.1

By considering processes, we can better understand how the biotic activity [BA] factor or any other
factor influences soil properties.

Soil Parent Material

Parent materials for soils are the mineral or organic substrates in which a soil forms. Parent materials are
classified primarily by their mode of deposition; however, Organic parent materials are distinguished by
their low mineral content.
Inorganic Parent material is the initial mineral substance that forms a soil. It may reside at the site of its
origin or be transported from somewhere else to its current location. A soil formed from parent material found
at the site of its origin is called a residual or sedentary soil. Bedrock weathering in place produces a stony,
massive material called saprolite. As physical and some chemical weathering occur, the saprolite becomes
denser than the underlying bedrock.
The texture and original rock structure remain, but the material is soft enough to dig with a hand shovel. As
chemical weathering converts primary minerals to secondary minerals, particles are redistributed vertically.
As material is both added and removed, a soil develops. A residual soil will retain many of its characteristics
from underlying bedrock.
Soil texture, mineralogy, pH, and other characteristics may be a direct result of the saprolite below.
Material can be eroded from one place and transported to another where it becomes parent material for a soil
at the new site. Often weathering occurs before the material is transported to the new site. In this case, the
soil may have few features in common with the underlying rock. Transported material can bury an existing
soil at the new site. Once a depositional episode is completed, time zero for the new soil formation begins.
Several forces can supply energy for the transportation of parent material e.g. wind, water, and gravity.
2.1.2

Climate

Climate is thought to have the greatest effect on soil formation. It not only directly affects material
translocation (leaching or erosion, for example) and transformation (weathering), but also indirectly
influences the type and amount of vegetation supported by a soil. Precipitation is the main force in moving
clay and organic matter from the surface to a depth within the profile. When a soil is at field capacity, the
addition of more water will result in drainage either downward or laterally. Drainage water carries with it
dissolved and suspended clay particles that collect at a new location within the soil profile. As a result, soils
pg.

often show an increase in clay with depth as wind erosion selectively removes clay (and organic matter) from
surface horizons.
Temperature and moisture affect physical and chemical weathering. Diurnal and seasonal changes in
temperature cause particles to expand and contract unevenly, breaking them apart. Heat and moisture are
active agents of chemical weathering, the conversion of one mineral into another.
Climate affects the type and amount of vegetation in a region. A warm, humid climate produces the most
vegetative growth; however, microbial decomposition is also rapid. The net effect is that tropical and
subtropical soils are generally low in organic content. In contrast, organic matter tends to be highest in a cool
damp environment where decomposition is slow.
Temperature and the amount of water moving through a profile affects all of the following:

2.1.3

the amount and characteristics of organic matter;


the depth at which clay accumulates;
the type of minerals present;
soil pH (humid climates tend to produce more acidic soil than do arid climates);
soil color;
iron, aluminum, and phosphorus distributions within a soil profile; and
The depth to calcium carbonate and/or salt accumulation.

Topography (Relief)

Topographic relief, or the slope and aspect of the land, has a strong influence on the distribution of soils on a
landscape. Position on a slope influences the soil depth through differences in accumulation of erosional
debris. Slope affects the amount of precipitation that infiltrates into soil versus that which runs off the
surface. Aspect, or the direction a slope is facing, affects soil temperature. In northern hemisphere sites,
south-facing slopes are warmer than those facing north. Differences in moisture and temperature regimes
create microclimates that result in vegetational differences with aspect. Differences in weathering, erosion,
leaching, and secondary mineral formation also can be associated with relief. Biotic Activity (contribution of
Living organisms and man)
2.1.4

Biotic Activity

Biological activity and climate are active forces in soil formation. Soil pedogenesis involves a variety of
animals, plants, and microorganisms. Ants, earthworms, and burrowing animals, for example, mix more soil
than do humans through plowing and construction. Plant roots remove mineral nutrients from subsoil and
redeposit them at the surface in leaf litter. Growing roots open channels through soil where rainwater can
wash clay and organic matter down along these channels. Soil microbes decompose plant and animal debris,
releasing organic acids. This biochemical activity is the catalyst for a great deal of the oxidation/reduction and
other chemical reactions in soil.
The distribution of organic matter in a forest soil is different from that in a grassland. The surface soils of
forests tend to have concentrated organic matter, which quickly decreases with depth. Grassland soils tend to
accumulate organic matter to a greater depth than do forest soils.
2.1.5

Time

Soils develop over time. Soil formation is a dynamic process, where a steady state is slowly approached but
only rarely reached. The rate at which a soil forms is related more to the intensity of other soil forming factors
than to chronological age.
Soil development begins with a parent material that has a surface layer altered by vegetation and
weathering. For example, a young Coastal Plain soil has relatively uniform material throughout, and is altered
only by a dark-stained surface layer that has been formed by vegetation. A more mature soil, on the other
hand, shows evidence of the removal and transport of surface-layer clay to a subsurface layer called the B
horizon. In an even older soil, chemical weathering and leaching have removed silicon, causing a change in
the suite of clay minerals. A senile soil is excessively weathered and dominated by very resistant iron and
aluminum oxide minerals. The rate that a young Coastal Plain soil becomes a senile soil depends not on its
chronological age but on how rapidly minerals are transported and transformed within the profile.
pg.

Human activity frequently alters the process of pedogenesis. Once human activity ends, soil formation can
continue as before if no radical change in the soil-forming factors occurred in the interim. Because fine
material leaches selectively faster than coarse material, differences between human-altered and undisturbed
soils in the ratio of fine to coarse clay may be apparent in a relatively short span of time (one hundred years
in a humid environment).

2.2

Formation of Inorganic Soils

2.2.1

Rocks

A rock is defined by its mineral components. All mineral soils develop from parent rock. Soils developed from
granite are obviously quite different from a piece of granite. Furthermore, all soils developed from granite are
not the same. There should be some changes that take place in the composition of the rock during
development of soil.
A rock is composed of one or more minerals. On the basis of origin, rocks may be divided into three kinds,
namely igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic.
Igneous rocks arise from the cooling of molten magma. In East Africa, granite is an example of igneous
rocks.
Sedimentary rocks are formed by consolidation of materials settled out of water. In east Africa, phyllite is an
example of sedimentary rocks.
Metamorphic rocks are rocks altered in their form by heat and pressure usually during certain geological
activities. In east Africa, schist and gneiss are examples of metamorphic rocks.
Granite is composed of quartz, feldspar and small quantities of dark-coloured ferromagnesium minerals. Since
granite contains an abundance of silica, it is an acidic rock. On the other heart, basalt contains lower in silica
and higher in bases, is a basic rock.
Minerals have definite chemical composition and are categorized largely on the basis of their crystalline
structure. The group of minerals called feldspars have similar crystalline structures but differ in the bases
which are present; thus a calcium feldspar is called anorthite, a potassium feldspar is called orthoclase, a
sodium feldspar is called plagioclase, etc.
2.2.2

Physical weathering

The disintegration of rocks occurs during heating and cooling. As a rock i.e. heated by exposure to the sun
during the day, the surface of the rock becomes warmer than the interior of the rock. Due to the high
temperature, the expansion of the surface is greater than that of the interior of the rock. When the sun goes
down, the opposite happens. The rock looses heat by radiation to the atmosphere. Under these conditions,
the surface of the rock becomes cooler than the interior and consequently, contracts to a greater degree. This
differential expansion and contraction causes the rock to develop planes of weakness, and thin sheets of the
rock tend to flake off. This flaking off is called exfoliation.
The erosive action of water, wind and gravity causes small pieces of rock to be carried along, striking other
rocks and leading to their disintegration.
Physical weathering is relatively slow and only causes reduction in size of rocks. This reduction in size of rocks
provides a larger surface which can undergo chemical weathering more easily.
2.2.3

Chemical weathering

Hydration:
This happens when water unites with a mineral. When hematite (an iron oxide), commonly found in soils, is
hydrated, it becomes limonite. This process of hydration is illustrated by the equation below:

pg.

Many other soil minerals can become hydrated causing them to expand, which results in splitting and
breaking of the associated rock. Thus, chemical hydration contributes to the physical disintegration of
rocks.
Oxidation:
This is the chemical composition of oxygen from the atmosphere with the other elements. Iron and sulphur, in
particular, are often in the reduced form and hence are subject to oxidation. Like all chemical reactions,
oxidation is favoured by high temperatures. At low temperatures where the mean temperatures are higher,
the extent and rate of oxidation is greater than at the cooler, higher elevations.
Hydrolysis:
Water is a universal compound which often enters into chemical reactions. When the water molecule (HOH)
splits into H and OH and each part combines with other elements, hydrolysis has occurred. The H in water
tends to replace most of the positive ions in many other compounds, especially when the compound contains
strongly basic elements. The hydrolysis of silicate or aluminosilicate minerals is very common. This may be
illustrated by the following equations:

In both cases, the base was changed from its original form to a soluble form, or in terms of plants, an
unavailable state to an available state.

Solution:

By this process, water is also able to alter the chemical properties of rocks. Water moving over or through
rocks will dissolve and carry with it soluble portions of rock. The water will also carry the soluble products of
decomposition such as the KOH and Ca(OH)2 (just mentioned) along.
The effectiveness of water in decomposing minerals is enhanced by the presence of salts, bases and acids.
The mere presence of water aids in initiating and sustaining chemical rock and soil weathering.
Carbonation:
After a certain time of rock weathering, primitive plants can begin to grow. They begin to contribute organic
material, which stimulates growth of seeds from higher plants. The respiration of plant roots and
decomposition of organic matter result in an enrichment of the medium with carbondioxide. This
carbondioxide reacts with water to produce carbonic acid which is more effective in dissolving the minerals
than pure water. The combination of carbondioxide with basic minerals such as KOH and Ca(OH) 2 to form
carbonates and bicarbonates is what we call carbonation.
2.2.4

Inter-relationship between Physical and Chemical Weathering

All weathering processes e.g. disintegration, hydration, oxidation, hydrolysis, solution, carbonation may occur
simultaneously and are somewhat interdependent. Chemical weathering takes place almost entirely on the
surface of the rock particles. The finer the rock is subdivided, the grater the surface area will be, and the
faster weathering will occur. Physical disintegration of rocks has an important influence on the rate of
chemical decomposition.
2.2.5

Rate of weathering

Minerals weather at different rates. Quartz is highly resistant to weathering. This explains why soils developed
from rocks high in quartz have sandy textures. The quarts from the rock remains as sand particles. Potassium
feldspars are also somewhat resistant to weathering but less than quartz. Some dark minerals such as
pg.

hornblende and augite, are more readily weathered. Thus, rocks consisting of a mixture of minerals do not
weather uniformly but rather, more readily weathered minerals decompose first.
Minerals might be classified on the basis of the kind of weathering which occurs, into three groups: Quarts,
feldspars and the ferromagnesium minerals. When a granitic rock weathers, most of the easily weathered
minerals break down initially thereby freeing the large amount of quartz grains which weather very slowly. At
first, these quartz grains are sharply angular as they were in the original rock. But even quartz is weathered
to a certain degree and as time passes, the sharp edges and corners of the quartz grains are broken.
Eventually the quartz grains (or sand, as they would be called in the soil) appear rounded and abraded as
though they had been subjected to the erosive action of being carried in a stream.
During quartz weathering, only a small amount of soluble silica is released which may be carried from the soil
in solution or may recombine with other elements to form new compounds.
The potassium feldspars are among the first minerals to be weathered. Potassium feldspar (orthoclase) is an
important constituent of granite. When granite is exposed to weathering, the orthoclase is the first mineral to
break down. The decomposition of orthoclase is representative of the decomposition of all the feldspars.
Weathering of orthoclase requires water and carbondioxide, both of which are usually abundant in soil. When
rain the weak carbonic acid formed by rainwater and carbondioxide comes in contact with the orthoclase, the
hydrogen ion (H+) from the acid displaces the potassium ion (K +) from the orthoclase crystal. The potassium
then combines with the carbonate to form potassium carbonate, soluble salt. When potassium is removed
from the orthoclase, it causes disruption of thee orthoclase crystal. When the crystal reforms, it is no longer
an orthoclase crystal but is now the beginning of the clay mineral crystal. In the reorganization of the crystal
structure there is some excess silicon and oxygen which will appear in solution as soluble silica (SiO2). The
entire reaction is shown in the following equation:

The secondary kaolinite mineral formed is the beginning of the development of this type of clay minerals.
Originally, it is probably amorphous, but as it combines with other units, the characteristic crystalline
structure develops. Potassium carbonate is soluble and may be carried away in the drainage water, or may be
used by plants, or combine with other elements to form new compounds, or the K + may be held by the clay
mineral. The electronegative charge on the clay attracts the positively charged potassium ion K +, or in some
cases the K becomes part of the clay mineral structure. The silica produced appears as soluble silica or as
very finely divided quartz in the colloidal size range.
Decomposition of other feldspars follows a similar pattern. Of course, calcium feldspar would produce calcium
carbonate instead of potassium carbonate and the CaCO 3 produced might form the mineral calcite and
subsequently be found in limestone or marble rock. Some calcium of course would eventually be carried away
by water to the sea. The same pattern would be followed by sodium feldspars, with Na 2CO3 being formed.
To a certain extent, weathering of ferromagnesium silicates produces the same products of weathering as
the feldspars, i.e. clay, soluble salts, and colloidal silica. However the presence of iron and magnesium in
these minerals makes possible the formation of additional compounds. Ironmay be incorporated into some of
the clay minerals or may form iron carbonates. Usually, iron unites with oxygen to form haematite4, Fe2CO3,
with a characteristic red colour. The presence of red colour in soils is usually due to haematite. Other iron
oxides formed from weathering of iron-containing minerals include goethite
colour, and limonite

{FeO(OH)} which has a brownish

{2Fe2O3.3H2O} which has a yellowish- brown colour.

Magnesium from minerals is also released in soluble form, sometimes as a carbonate. More often, it remains
in newly formed minerals or becomes part of certain clay minerals.
4

The greek word haimatites means bloodlike

pg.

In summary:
Un-weathered rock is neither physically nor chemically suited for plant growth. Essential nutrients in rocks are
in an insoluble form and hence unavailable to plants. As rock decomposes, essential nutrients may be
released from the mineral in a soluble form. The soluble nutrients may be leached from the soil and lost or
recombine with other elements and remain in the soil.
As a rock weathers, there is a gradual loss of total nutrients since rock constituents are made more soluble
and hence, more subject to loss from the soil. However the content of the available nutrients increases
because some bases and other elements become more soluble. If the process of weathering continues long
enough, many nutrients are lost or converted to stable, insoluble forms and both the total and the available
nutrients in the resulting soil become very low.
Under conditions of tropical weathering such as prevail in Africa, rocks and soils are very thoroughly
weathered, i.e., the level of nutrients is generally very low and only the more highly weathered clay minerals
such as kaolinite and the hydrous oxides prevail. (see figure below).
This degree of weathering imparts very important properties to the soil. The fertility status of east African
soils is largely a result of very intense weathering the soils have experienced.

Figure 7

some possible routes of weathering of soil minerals.

3. THE SOIL PROFILE

Figure 1

3.1

The Soil Profile

Master horizons and layers

The capital letters O. A, E, B. C and R represent the master horizons and layers of soils. The capital letters
are the base symbols to which other characters are added to complete the designation. Most horizons and
layers are given a single capital letter symbol, but some require two. Currently seven master horizons and
layers are recognized. The master horizons and their subdivisions represent layers which show evidence of
change and some layers which have not been changed.

pg.

10

O horizon- (O stands for organic) includes litter layer, and sometimes a humus layer. These materials are
differentiated by the degree of decomposition of the organic matter. This horizon is often missing in cultivated
soils and severely eroded soils.
A Horizon - The layer commonly referred to as topsoil; This layer most closely resembles the ideal soil and is
found below the O horizon and above the E horizon. Seeds germinate and plant roots grow in this darkcolored layer. It is made up of humus (decomposed organic matter) mixed with mineral particles.
E Horizon - This eluviation (leaching) layer is stripped of much of its clay and sometimes staining agents as
water drips through the soil (in the elluviation process), and is thus often lighter in color than the others. It is
lower in organic matter than the A horizon. It is beneath the A Horizon and above the B Horizon and is made
up mostly of sand and silt, having lost most of its minerals and clay as water drips through the soil (in the
process of eluviation). [E stands for elluvial].
B Horizon - Also called the subsoil - is a zone of illuviation (has accumulated substancesclays, organic
matter, iron and aluminum compounds and calcium carbonate that have been leached from overlying
horizons when mineralized water drips down). This layer is beneath the E Horizon and above the C Horizon.
C Horizon - Also called regolith: the layer beneath the B Horizon and above the R Horizon. It consists of
slightly broken-up bedrock. Plant roots do not penetrate into this layer; very little organic material is found in
this layer.
R Horizon - The unweathered rock (bedrock) layer that is beneath all the other layers.

pg.

11

4. BASIC PHYSICAL PROPERTIES


The characteristics of soil that a grower can see or feel greatly affect how soil can be used for the growth of
plants or for other activities. E.g. if the soil is loose, the roots can grow easily through it. The physical
properties of soil in consideration here include soil texture, structure, colour, rots, density, etc and the most
commonly studied ones are soil texture which can be determined by quantitative analyses and soil structure
which is more described in qualitative terms. Texture really does not change over a period of only a couple of
hundred years or so, but structure can be changed rapidly, especially through management practices.

4.1

Soil Texture

The relative combination of sand, silt, and clay in a soil defines its texture. The particle sizes (diameters) in
each of these three soil separates ranges between specific limits as reflected in figure 2.

Figure 2

Different Schemes of Soil Separates Classification

It is relevant to know that soil texture is important in determining the nutrient-holding abilities of a soil. Along
with soil structure (the arrangement of soil particles in aggregates), the texture of soil is also important to
water-holding capacity, water movement, and the amount and movement of soil air in a given soil. All of this
is important to the health and type of plants and other organisms that can exist in a particular soil.
Soil texture is highly correlated with a range of soil chemical and physical properties. Fine textured soils with
high clay contents generally have higher nutrient and water holding capacities than do coarse textured soils.
However, fine textured soils often do not have drainage characteristics that are ideal for plant growth,
especially if the soil does not have good structure.
Once the percent by weight of sand, silt, and clay are known (or, rather, any two of them), the soil texture can
be plotted on the triangular graph known as the soil textural triangle (figure 3). The region on the graph
where the three particle size percentages meet is the soil's texture. Loam has been determined to be the
texture best suited to the growth of most agricultural crops, having the optimum combination of heavy and
light soil qualities.
4.1.1

Soil textural classes

Soils rarely consist entirely of a single separate, but instead are a mixture. Textural classes are based on
different combinations of sand, silt, and clay. The twelve basic textural classes in order of increasing
proportions of the fine separates and with appropriate abbreviations are:

pg.

12

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Sand (s)
Loamy sand (ls)
Sandy loam (sl)
Loam (l)
Silt loam (sil)
Silt (si)

7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.

Sandy clay loam (scl)


Clay loam (cl)
Silty clay loam (sicl)
Sandy clay (sc)
Silty clay (sic)
Clay (c)

The term loam refers to soils having moderate amount of sand, silt and clay. Thus, loamy soils have textural
properties intermediate to the properties of the individual separates.
A sandy loam soil has a soil texture somewhat coarser than a loam and loamy sand soil has a texture
somewhat finer than sand. Those textural classes with the term sand in the name are often modified to
indicate the fineness of the sand. Very coarse sand, for example, will have different properties than very fine
sand. The ranges of sand sizes used by the USDA are below:
Table 2.1. 1

Sizes Limits on Sand Separates used by the USDA


Sand separate
Particle diameter(mm)
Very coarse sand
2.0-1.0
coarse sand
1.0-0.5
Medium sand
0.5-0.25
Fine sand
0.25-0.10
Very fine sand
0.10-0.05

Actually, soil texture describes the proportions of soil l particles less than 2 mm in diameter and larger than 2
m mm in diameter. The separates larger than 2 mm in diameter, or coarse fragments , are described using
terms such as stony, cobbly, gravelly, slaty, cherty, and flaggy. Each term has a precise meaning reflecting the
size, shape, and composition of the coarse fragments.

Figure 3.USDA Soil Textural Triangle. (source: Soil Taxonomy, 1975. US Government Printing Office. Wachington, DC)
The soil textural triangle is used when lab data is available.

The term Loam is used to refer to a USDA soil textural class that has fairly equal amounts of sand silt in clay.

pg.

13

4.1.2

Determination of soil texture

Soil texture is determined either in the laboratory or in the field.


a. Pipette method:
This uses stokes law to measure settling rates of the soil particles. It is very accurate, however, very time
consuming.
b. Hydrometer method
This puts into application the specific gravity of the soil. It is cheap and fast, but it is not as accurate as the
pipette method.
c.

Field method (Feel method)

It is the most widely used method of determining soil texture. It is quick, cheap, and no lab facilities are
needed. However, many human errors are committed during the process, and the method requires a lot of
training. (clays cause lots of problems)

pg.

14

Fig. 2.1.3

4.2

Flow Chart for Determining Soil Texture

Soil Structure

Soil structure is the shape that soil takes based on its physical and chemical properties. It is the overall
arrangement and orientation of soil particles (separates) into definite and usually, recognizable shapes/
forms. It is a combination or arrangement of primary soil particles into secondary units or peds. It involves
pg.

15

the geometric arrangement of the particles and inter-particle forces that act between them. Soil structure has
both direct and indirect influence on soil productivity; it influences how soil behaves, including how water
moves into (infiltration), across (runoff), and through (percolation) a given soil.
The degree of distinction may be related to parent material, activities of humus or activities of organisms.
The structures are categorized by their shapes, sizes and grades. These shapes are mainly spherical or
rectilinear.
4.2.1

Spherical Peds.

This generally describes the units in spheroidal structures.

Spheroidal structures:
they take the shapes of spheres. When very porous, they are considered crumbly. When they are not very
porous, they are considered granular.
4.2.2

Rectilinear Peds.

These generally describe units with platy, blocky and prismatic structures.

Platy structures
They are such that their vertical thickness is much smaller than the horizontal dimension. They look like
plates.

Prismatic structures
The vertical sizing here is much greater than the horizontal dimensions. There is a special type of prismatic
structures with tops that are rounded; these are known as columnar structures.

Blocky structures.
There is not much difference between their vertical and horizontal dimensions. If the peds have sharp edged,
they are referred to as angular blocky. If they have rounded edges, they are referred to as sub-angular blocky.
Maintaining good soil structure is important for plant growth. Below is a figure with some common structural
characterizations.

pg.

16

Figure 4
4.2.3

Soil Structure Types

The Structure Grade

It is described in relation to hoe the peds appear in a soil exposure and how stongly they hold together when
the soil is handled. The 4 classes of grades can be:

Strong
Medium
Weak
Structureless.

Structureless soils have no visible geometric structure. They are subdivided into single grain soils and
massive structures.

Single grain soils:


Here, individual particles are not associated with other particles. They are generally sandy.

pg.

17

Massive structures:
Here, the particles are strongly bound to each other, but not in any geometrically recognized pattern. These
are common in soil horizons that have undergone little or no formation, and in places where fine textured
soils are compacted together when wet.
At times, the soils can have compound structures in which large peds have broken up into smaller peds of
different shapes. E.g. a coarse prismatic structure may break up into a medium blocky structure.
4.2.4

Soil structure formation

Physical, chemical and biological processes interact to form soil structures. Soil particles like clay act
separately in a dispersed system or they group together to form domains in a flocculated system. Domains in
turn, group together to form aggregates, and the aggregates form peds.

Figure 5 Representation of Soil Formation

Flocculated systems form stronger structures than dispersed systems because of particle interaction. If the
salt content of the soil (Na+, Ca2+, Mg2+, Cl-, SO42-, etc in soil solution) is high, as in the desert, the soil tends to
be flocculated.
In most soils however, the salt content is not high enough to cause flocculation. In these soils, the kind of
exchangeable cations affects flocculation. Sodium ions, Na+ and to a less extent, Magnesium ions Mg 2+, tend
to disperse soils. Whereas calcium ions, Ca2+ and aluminium cationic Al3+ tend to flocculate soils. Also iron and
aluminium oxides tend to flocculate soils.

Formation of granular structures


Biological processes are mainly responsible for the formation of granular structures; ants and termites secrete
organic glues that hold the soil particles together. Earthworms ingest soil, mix it with organic compounds
and excrete aggregated soil material. Plants also secrete organic materials which bind soil particles together.
These organisms normally affect the top soil, thus, top soils usually have granular structures.
4.2.5

Soil structure stability

This describes the ability of soil to retain its arrangement of soil voids when exposed to different stresses and
is one of the most important properties that affect a soils ability to store and transport water and
agrichemicals. For example, compaction alters the soil structure and hydrology by increasing bulk density,
breaking down aggregates, decreasing porosity, aeration and infiltration, and by increasing soil strength and
run-off.

4.3

Soil Colour

The first impression we have when we look at bare earth is the soil colour. Earth materials with different
colours may imply the presence of some particular components. Red, yellow, yellowish-red, greyish-brown,
and pale red are all good descriptive colours of soil, but not very exact.

pg.

18

Soil colour is easily noted but does not greatly affect the soil. However, it is a good indicator of certain soil
conditions, so crop growers can learn about the soil condition by its colour.
4.3.1

Colour as a Guide to Soil Use

Soil colour can be a suitable guide to the suitability of the soil for various uses. White or light coloured soils
usually have low fertility, either because they are leached or high in salts. Proper irrigation, fertilizer
application or treatment can render these soils usable. A black to dark brown soil colour usually suggests
staining with organic matter. Very dark top soils that are high in organic matter may be quite fertile. However,
sub-soils may be darkened due to gleying- the high organic matter content may occur due to lack of oxygen
to aid in decaying it. Red indicates the presence of oxidized iron and is normally found in well drained soils. In
soils saturated for long periods of the year, oxides become reduced giving a grayish or bluish gray colour.
4.3.2

Soil colour description

Soil colour is described using the Munsell method. This is a method used in soil survey that relying on a
system which gives a precise description of soil colour. The method is known as the Munsell system of colour
notation. (see www.munsell.com for more information)
4.3.3

The Munsell system of colour notation

The Munsell system identifies each chip with three variables:


Hue: This is the dominant spectral colour. It is related to the wavelength of the light reflected by the soil
particles. Common soil colours are white, gray, black, yellow, brown, red and their various mixtures.
Value: The lightness or darkness of the hue/ colour. It is the measure of the amount of light reflected. Moisture
content affects the lightness or darkness of soil.
Chroma: This is the strength or purity of the colour. It indicates the difference between white, black or neutral
colour.
[i.e. Hue= specific colour, Value = lightnes or darkness, chroma = colour intensity]

Figure 6. The system recognizes 5 dominant colours with 5 additional half way colours such as yellow-red.
These are referred to as the Hues. The Value describes the brightness of the colour from black (0) to white
(10) and 5 being neutral grey. Chroma is a measure of purity or strength of the colour on a scale from 0
(weak) to 12 (very strong) although the later only applies to some colours.

NB: Soil colour is strongly affected by moisture. As such, it is important to specify colours as either wet,
moist, or dry.

pg.

19

4.3.4

Munsell Soil Color Charts

Soil color is characterized by comparison to the Munsell Soil Color Charts, which contain several series of
distinctively colored chips. Each page represents a different hue. The Munsell book normally has 15 pages,
each with a number (10, 7.5, 5, or 2.5) followed by a letter or letters indicating red (R), yellow (Y), green (G),
blue (B), or combinations of these. For example, the 10 Y/R page contains color chips yellow-red (Y/R) with
more yellow than red (10).Value units range between 0 and 10. The numbers ascend vertically on the page
from the lowest to highest numbers, indicating dark to light values. Thus, a 0 value is black with no light
reflected, while
10 is white with maximum light reflected. Chroma units are arranged horizontally across the page from 0 to
10, increasing in numbers from left to right. Low numbers indicate an increase in grayness, while high
numbers signify a pure color with little mixing with other hues. Hence, a designation of 10R 6/4 indicates a
hue of 10R, a value of 6, and a chroma of 4.

Mottling
Mottles are spots or blotches that are different from the matrix or background colour.

Figure 7. soil with mottles

Figure 8: Gleying

Mottling is a blotchy colour condition in the soil that is indicative of less than perfect drainage but not as
imperfectly or poorly drained that the blue/grey colours indicate. Mottles tend to be reddish in colour and
stand out against the matrix colour of the soil.
On careful observation, most soils contain more than one color. Therefore, the matrix or dominant background
color and mottles or colors different from the background must be described. While the matrix is simply
described by a Munsell number, the mottles must be described by their abundance, size, and contrast to the
background/matrix.
Abundance: the relative amount of mottling. It is described by three classes. Mottles that occupy less than 2
percent of the exposed horizon s are classified as few; 2 to 20 percent as common; and more than 20 percent
as many.
Size: a measure of the estimated average diameter of individual mottles along their greatest dimension.
Mottles less than 5 mm in diameter are classified as fine; 5 to 15 mm as medium; and greater than 15 mm as
coarse.
Contrast: an indication of the relative difference in color between the matrix and mottles. If the contrast in
color is only recognizable after close examination, it is classified as faint. A distinct pattern is readily seen
pg.

20

although not striking. It may vary one or two hues or several value or chroma units. Mottles are considered
prominent when they are the outstanding feature of the horizon. The colors of the matrix and mottles are
separated by several units of hue, value, and chroma.

Gleying
This is the extreme outcome or result of reduction by anaerobic bacterium. These bactirum do not use
oxygen but a process called electron transfer respiration they use the electrons from Fe 2+ (ferrous iron) for
energy and create Fe3+ (ferric iron) in the process. In this case the soil develops a blue grey colour. Soils that
develop this colour are usually saturated for prolonged periods of time during the year.

4.4

Soil Density,

As already known, density is the mass per unit volume


4.4.1

Particle density s

Soil particle density is another way of expressing how much soil would weigh if there were no pore spaces. It
varies according to the type of minerals from the parent rock and the amount of organic matter in the soil.
Particle densities are very similar for most mineral soils. Most soils average about 2.6 gcm -3, a value used as a
standard in soil density calculations. High organic matter reduces the value because organic matter is much
lighter than mineral matter.
Mathematically,

4.4.2

Ms
Vs

Bulk density, b (dry density)

This is the measure of soils compactness, defined as soils oven dried mass M s, divided by its volume V b
including the pore space.
The bulk density of soil in good condition ranges from 0.8 to 1.6 gcm -3. Roots tend to proliferate more in soil
with low bulk density.
Because soil has pores, bulk density (which is the actual density) is less than the particle density. To
determine this, the soil is oven dried (at 150 oC) and weighed to calculate the bulk density
Mathematically,

Ms
Ms

Vb Vs Vl Vg

The bulk densities of mineral soils depend especially on the pore spaces in the soil. Organic soils are usually
lighter, and soils with high organic matter tend to have good structure and lower bulk density than a similar
soil with low organic matter. Cultivation destroys the structure by reducing organic matter and increasing the
bulk density.
4.4.3

Soil Porosity, p

This is the total pore space in the soil, which is capable of holding the water and air; thus, 50% porosity is half
solid particles and half pores.
It can be checked by placing an oven dry soil core in a pan of water until all the empty pores are filled with
water. The water volume filling the pores divided by the total core volume is the porosity.

Porosity

Wet weight Dry weight


;
Volume of soil

pg.

21

Mb Ms
;
Vb

Porosity can also be calculated from the bulk density and particle density. If there were no pores, b/s would
equal to 1; so the ratio b/s is simply the soil percentage that is solid matter. If this is subtracted from 100%,
it gives the percentage pore space. For calculation, it is usually assumed that the particle density, s is 2.65
gcm-3

100 %
s

Porosity 100%
4.4.4

Permeability

This is the ease with which air, water and roots move within the soil. In highly permeable soil, water infiltrates
so rapidly and aeration keeps roots well supplied with oxygen; roots also grow with ease.
Permeable soils are considered loose while impermeable soils are considered to be tight or packed
Permeability partly depends on the number of soil pores, but, mainly on the size and continuity of the soil
pores.
Permeability is not a property that can be measured directly, however, the movement of water can be
measured, and this reflects permeability. The measure of the rate of water movement in the soil is referred to
as conductivity. Coarse textured soils have higher conductivities than fine textured soils.
NB: Bulk density can be related to soil particle density by the total porosity, according to the equation:
b = (1-pt)s
4.4.5

Total (wet density), t

When calculating this, we include the water component of the soil, so the soil weight is measured without
oven drying. Total density differs from dry density in that it is strongly dependent on the Moisture content of
the soil. If the soil is dry, t b
Mathematically,

pt

4.4.6

Ms Ml
;
Vs Vl Vg

Mg 0

Void ratio, e

This is the volume of soil voids as a ratio of the solid volume; i.e. it is got by dividing volume of pores, Vf by
the volume of mineral part, Vs

4.4.7

Va Vw
Vs

or e

Vf
Vt Vf

or e

Vf 1
;
Vt

Soil wetness,

This can be expressed on volume basis or on mass basis

Mass wetness, m

Mw
Ms

Volume wetness, v

Vw
Vs
pg.

22

4.5

Stages of Soil Formation

All soil formation begins with the accumulation of parent material. The next step is the buildup of organic
materials at the surface. Pioneer species (most often grasses and alga in this area) live and die, and organic
matter begins to build up on the surface of the material and also beneath the surface in the rooting zone.
The A horizon starts to form once enough organic matter has been transformed by soil biota into humic
materials. The humic materials coat the inorganic soil particles, coloring them brown and black. The formation
of a recognizable A horizon takes decades or, in some cases, centuries.
The B horizon begins to form as dissolved and suspended materials are carried downward to greater depths
with percolating rainwater. These materials include humic substances, suspended clays, salts, and metals,
including iron and aluminum. It is likely that the largely insoluble iron and aluminum cations and oxides move
in complex with dissolved organic material (chelation), and also in complex with suspended clay minerals.
The A horizon continues to increase in thickness, and the B horizon continues to develop . The A horizon will
increase in thickness and SOM content, until it reaches a steady state in which the rate of fresh organic
matter additions equals the losses by decay, illuviation, and erosion. This steady state is affected by certain
environmental changes, including climatic change and vegetational succession (or cultivation). The B horizon
will continue to receive illuviated material as it is formed in the A horizon, or sometimes as it is deposited on
the surface (especially wind-blown clays).
The E horizon forms as the top of B horizon moves deeper into the soil. In some forested areas, such as the
Southeast region of the United States, the movement of illuvial materials occurs at a faster rate than the
illuvial materials are formed (largely clays and organic matter). This results in a gap between the A horizon
and the B horizon. The E horizon is usually the same texture as the A horizon, and the soil particles are largely
stripped of staining agents, such as organic matter and metal oxides. These materials have elluviated from
the E into the B horizon.
Minerals continue to weather. Clays in B horizon weather to less active minerals (kaolinite).
"Bases" are leached from soil. Certain cations are referred to as acids or bases in soil science, even though
they do not fit any chemical definition of the term. The acidic cations, including aluminum and iron cations,
are so called because their presence in the soil tends to decrease pH. (The reactions responsible for this will
not be explained here.) The presence of the basic cations in large amounts usually coincides with neutral to
high pH soil systems. These bases are often plant macro-nutrients, like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
The loss of basic cations results in low fertility soils.
Silicate clay minerals completely break down into iron and aluminum oxides. Soil is extremely infertile. This
occurs in tropical climates.

pg.

23

5. CHEMICAL PROPERTIES OF SOIL


The chemical properties of soil usually bring into consideration the soil pH, salinity (EC), cation exchange
capacity (CEC), organic matter and C:N ratio (Carbon to Nitrogen ratio)

5.1

Soil pH :
5

Soil pH is a measurement of the acidity or alkalinity of a soil and is measured in pH units. The pH scale goes
from 0 to 14 with pH 7.0 as the neutral point. As the amount of hydrogen ions in the soil increases the soil pH
decreases thus becoming more acidic. From pH 7 to 0 the soil is increasingly more acidic and from pH 7 to 14
the soil is increasingly more alkaline or basic. A pH range of 6.8 to 7.2 is termed near neutral.
Descriptive terms commonly associated with certain ranges in soil pH are:

Extremely acid: < than 4.5; lemon=2.5; vinegar=3.0; stomach acid=2.0; soda=24

Very strongly acid: 4.55.0; beer=4.55.0; tomatoes=4.5

Strongly acid: 5.15.5; carrots=5.0; asparagus=5.5; boric acid=5.2; cabbage=5.3

Moderately acid: 5.66.0; potatoes=5.6

Slightly acid: 6.16.5; salmon=6.2; cow's milk=6.5

Neutral: 6.67.3; saliva=6.67.3; blood=7.3; shrimp=7.0

Slightly alkaline: 7.47.8; eggs=7.67.8

Moderately alkaline: 7.98.4; sea water=8.2; sodium bicarbonate=8.4

Strongly alkaline: 8.59.0; borax=9.0

Very strongly alkaline: > than 9.1; milk of magnesia=10.5, ammonia=11.1; lime=12

5.1.1

Measuring Soil pH

Soil pH provides various clues about soil properties and is easily determined.
-

The most accurate method of determining soil pH is by a pH meter.


A second method which is simple and easy but less accurate than using a pH meter, consists of using
certain indicators or dyes.

Many dyes change color with an increase or decrease of pH making it possible to estimate soil pH. In making
a pH determination on soil, the sample is saturated with the dye for a few minutes and the color observed.
This method is accurate enough for most purposes. Kits (pH) containing the necessary chemicals and color
charts are available from garden stores.
There may be considerable variation in the soil pH from one spot in a field or lawn to another. To determine
the average soil pH of a field or lawn it is necessary to collect soil from several locations and combine into
one sample.

Soil pH is defined as the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration.


pg.

24

5.1.2

How pH Affects Nutrients, Minerals and Growth

How pH affects nutrients, minerals and growth


Soil pH is an important chemical property because it affects the availability of nutrients to plants and the
activity of soil microorganisms. The influence of pH on nutrient activity is illustrated in the figure below:

Figure 8. Availability of nutrients based on soil pH

Many gardening books list the preferred pH for common plants (generally 6.0 to 7.2). For most plants,
however, what is preferred and what is tolerated are not related. Most plants tolerate pH of 6.0 to 7.5.
-

The effect of soil pH is great on the solubility of minerals or nutrients.

Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used
by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in
acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.
Phosphorus is never readily soluble in the soil but is most available in soil with a pH range centered around
6.5. Soils that are highly aidic (pH 4.0-5.0) can have high concentrations of soluble aluminum, iron and
manganese which may be toxic to the growth of some plants. A pH range of approximately 6 to 7 promotes
the most ready availability of plant nutrients.
But some plants, such as irish potatoes and conifer trees, tolerate strong acid soils and grow well. Also, some
plants do well only in slightly acid to moderately alkaline soils. However, a slightly alkaline (pH 7.4-7.8) or
higher pH soil can cause a problem with the availability of iron causing chlorosis of the leaves (deficiency in
chlorophyll) which will put the tree under stress leading to tree decline and eventual mortality.
-

The soil pH can also influence plant growth by its effect on activity of beneficial microorganisms.

Bacteria that decompose soil organic matter are hindered in strong acid soils. This prevents organic matter
from breaking down, resulting in an accumulation of organic matter and the tie up of nutrients, particularly
nitrogen, that are held in the organic matter.
Table: Soil pH and Plant Growth

pg.

25

5.1.3

Changes in Soil pH

Soils tend to become acidic as a result of:


(1) Rainwater leaching away basic ions (calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium);
(2) Carbon dioxide from decomposing organic matter and root respiration dissolving in soil water to form
a weak organic acid;
(3) Formation of strong organic and inorganic acids, such as nitric and sulfuric acid, from decaying
organic matter and oxidation of ammonium and sulfur fertilizers. Strongly acid soils are usually the
result of the action of these strong organic and inorganic acids.

Raising pH on acid soils


On acid soils, the pH can be raised by adding lime (calcium carbonate). The addition of lime not only replaces
hydrogen ions and raises soil pH, thereby eliminating most major problems associated with acid soils but it
also provides two nutrients, calcium and magnesium to the soil. The amount to add depends on the cation
exchange capacity (nutrient-holding capacity) of the soil, which is based on the soils clay content. Soil higher
in clay will have a higher cation exchange capacity and will require more materials to raise the pH.
Lime also makes phosphorus that is added to the soil more available for plant growth and increases the
availability of nitrogen by hastening the decomposition of organic matter. Liming materials are relatively
inexpensive, comparatively mild to handle and leave no objectionable residues in the soil.
Some common liming materials are:
(i) Calcic limestone which is ground limestone;
(ii) Dolomitic limestone from ground limestone high in magnesium; and
(iii) Miscellaneous sources such as wood ashes.
The amount of lime to apply to correct a soil acidity problem is affected by a number of factors, including soil
pH, texture (amount of sand, silt and clay), structure, and amount of organic matter. In addition to soil
variables the crops or plants to be grown influence the amount of lime needed.

Lowering pH on alkaline soils


Assignment Question 1:
Explain how to lower pH of alkaline soils for agricultural aplications. ( 5 marks)

pg.

26

5.2

Salinity (EC)

The salinity of soil refers to the amount of salts in the soil and it can be estimated by measuring the electrical
conductivity (EC) of an extracted soil solution.
5.2.1

How soil salinity affects plant growth

Salinity can affect plant growth in several ways, directly and indirectly:
The direct soil salinity damages include:
(i)

Decreased water uptake;

High salts concentration results in high osmotic potential of the soil solution, so the plant has to use more
energy to absorb water. Under extreme salinity conditions, plants may be unable to absorb water and will wilt,
even when the surrounding soil is saturated.
(ii)

Ion-specific toxicity

When a plant absorbs water containing ions of harmful salts (e.g. Sodium, Chloride, excess of Boron etc.),
visual symptoms might appear, such as stunted plant growth, small leaves, marginal necrosis of leaves or
fruit distortions.
The Indirect soil salinity damages include:
(i)

Interference with uptake of essential nutrients

An imbalance in the salts content may result in a harmful competition between elements. This condition is
called "antagonism", i.e. an excess of one ion limits the uptake of another ion. For example, excess of chloride
reduces the uptake of nitrate, excess of phosphor reduces the uptake of manganese, and excess of potassium
limits the uptake of calcium.
(ii)

Sodium effect on soil structure

In saline soils, sodium replaces calcium and magnesium, which are adsorbed to the surface of clay particles in
the soil. Thus, aggregation of soil particles is reduced, and the soil will tend to disperse. When wet, a sodic
soil tends to seal, its permeability is dramatically reduced, and thus water infiltration capacity is reduced as
well. When dry, a sodic soil becomes hard has the tendency to crack. This may result in damages to roots.
It should be noted that salinity by itself actually improves soil structure and eliminates to some degree the
negative effect of sodium ions, but of course, salinity cannot be increased without affecting plants growth.
5.2.2

Factors affecting soil salinity

Several factors affect the amount and composition of salts in soils namely:
Irrigation water quality - The total amount of dissolved salts in the irrigation water, and their composition,
influence the soil salinity. Therefore, various parameters, such as source water EC and its minerals content
should be tested.
Fertilizers applied - The type and amount of fertilizers applied to soil, affect its salinity. Some fertilizers
contain high levels of potentially harmful salts, such as potassium chloride or ammonium sulphate. Overuse
and misuse of fertilizers leads to salinity buildup, and should be avoided.

pg.

27

Irrigation regimen and type of irrigation system - The higher the water quantity applied, the closer soil
salinity is to irrigation water salts concentration. When the soil dries, the concentration of salts in the soil
solution is increased.
Since salts move with the wetting front, the salts accumulate in specific profiles according to the irrigation
regimen and the type of irrigation used. For instance, when irrigating using sprinklers, water and salts move
deeper, according to the soil's infiltration capacity and the water quantity, until they stop at a certain depth.
When using drip irrigation - there is also a lateral movement of water and salts.
Field's characteristics and agricultural history - A poorly drained soil might reach salinity level that is
harmful to the plants and to the whole crop. A soil that was not flushed after a previous growing cycle might
contain high level of accumulated salts.
5.2.3

Prevention and Management of Soil Salinity

(i)

Select a crop that fits the conditions in your field

Soil type - water infiltration capacity, how much air does the soil contain, how much water will be needed to
wash the soil in order to avoid salinity build up. Does your soil have special drainage problems? For example,
it is better avoid planting a salt sensitive crop in a soil which is not well drained.

(ii)

The microclimate conditions in the field -

Parameters such as wind direction and solar radiation may affect water consumption of the crop.

(iii)

The agricultural history of the field

Did salts accumulate in the soil during a previous crop?

(iv)

Irrigation water quality

Check the quality of the available source water. What kind of salts does it contain and what is the total level
of salts in it?

(v)

Type of irrigation system and its distribution

What type of irrigation system are you going to use? Is it flood irrigation, sprinklers, pivot or drip irrigation?
Each type of irrigation system has its own water distribution pattern, depending also on the soil properties.
Make sure the emitters are set in the appropriate spacing, to allow uniform irrigation depending on your soil
type.

(vi)

Know the leaching requirement for your crop

Irrigation water amounts must coincide the growing stage of your crop. Apply the minimum needed to flush
salts from soil. This means that you always have to give a little more water than the crop consumption, to
allow leaching of salts below the root zone. Heavier soils require larger water applications than lighter soils, in
order to avoid salinity buildup.
The leaching requirement is expressed as:

LR

water leached
water applied

A general equation to calculate the leaching requirement is

LR %

ECiw
5ECth ECiw
pg.

28

Where ECiw is the EC of the irrigation water, and EC th is the threshold salinity measured in the saturated soil
extract, above which yield begins do decline (both in ds/m).
The total amount of water to be applied, AW, is

AW

ET
1 LR

Where AW is the amount of water to be applied and ET is the water consumption based on
evapotranspiration.

(vii)

Keep the right Intervals between irrigations

Irrigation regimen and intervals must be appropriate to the soil conditions and to growth stage of the crop.
Frequent and shallow (superficial) applications result in salt accumulation in the root zone, while larger
applications, in longer intervals, will flush the salts below the root zone.

(viii) Use appropriate fertilizers types


The fertilizers type and their quantities should coincide with to the requirements of the crop and with
nutrients which are already in the soil. There are fertilizers which contain salts which are not taken up by
plants in large amounts, such as chlorides. These salts tend to accumulate in the soil.

(ix)

Have your soil tested periodically

Soil analysis gives you a better indication of the salt content in the soil, without which you'll be only guessing.
Guessing often comes close enough, but in many cases growers realize there's a salinity problem only after
yields are decreased or crop quality is reduced.
A practical approach in order to prevent salinity buildup early enough is sampling the soil 5 times over a
growing period of 8 months (a test every 6 weeks or so). It is recommended to do at least one water-analysis
as well. The tests will indicate any change in soil content, allowing you to adjust the fertilization and irrigation
regimen
as
needed.
This is the cheapest, most practical way to follow up on salinity status, keeping your crop quality and yield at
optimal level.

(x)

If problems persist

When you identify a salinity problem during the growing season, it is recommended to flush the field, even if
it means risking some crop damage, rather than allowing further deterioration of the crop due to salinity.
Flushing applications should be carefully planned according to the crop conditions and growth stage. In light
soils, which drain easily, the impact of flushing on the crop is usually insignificant.
In heavy soils, water infiltration and drainage problems may be encountered, resulting in excess of water and
lack of air to the roots. Flushing heavy soils is a prolonged process and its final result is difficult to anticipate
in advance.
Therefore, extra care should be taken when growing on heavy soils, as to not reach salinity buildup at all, or
at least identify the problem early enough, when salts levels are still relatively easy to flush.

pg.

29

If all else fails and flushing is the chosen course of action, in heavier soils, not more than the maximal water
amount that can be absorbed by the soil should be applied, and the longest intervals possible should be
maintained. In the meantime, fertilization should be based only on Nitrogen and only the minimum amount
should
be
applied.
The water used for flushing should be the highest quality possible, because the purpose of the flushing
process is to decrease the soil salinity to the levels of the irrigation water.

5.3

Cation exchange capacity (CEC)

Cation-exchange capacity is defined as the degree to which a soil can adsorb and exchange cations. Cation is
a positively charged ion (NH4+, K+, Ca2+, Fe2+, etc...) while Anion is a negatively charged ion (NO 3-, PO42-, SO42-,
etc...)
Soil particles and organic matter have negative charges on their surfaces. Mineral cations can adsorb to the
negative surface charges or the inorganic and organic soil particles. Once adsorbed, these minerals are not
easily lost when the soil is leached by water and they also provide a nutrient reserve available to plant roots.
These minerals can then be replaced or exchanged by other cations this is what we call cation exchange.
CEC is highly dependent upon soil texture and organic matter content. In general, the more clay and organic
matter in the soil, the higher the CEC. Clay content is important because these small particles have a high
ration of surface area to volume. Different types of clays also vary in CEC. Smectites have the highest CEC
(80-100 millequivalents 100 g-1), followed by illites (15-40 meq 100 g -1) and kaolinites (3-15 meq 100 g-1).
Examples of CEC values for different soil textures are as follows:
Soil texture
CEC (meq/100g soi)
Sands (light-colored)
3-5
Sands (dark-colored)
10-20
Loams
10-15
Silt loams
15-25
Clay and clay loams
20-50
Organic soils
50-100
In general, the CEC of most soils increases with an increase in soil pH.
Two factors determine the relative proportions of the different cations adsorbed by clays. First, cations are not
held equally tight by the soil colloids. When the cations are present in equivalent amounts, the order of
strength of adsorption is Al3+ > Ca2+ > Mg2+ > K+ = NH4+ > Na+.
Second, the relative concentrations of the cations in soil solution helps determine the degree of adsorption.
Very acid soils will have high concentrations of H+ and Al 3+. In neutral to moderately alkaline soils, Ca 2+ and
Mg2+ dominate. Poorly drained arid soils may adsorb Na in very high quantities.
5.3.1

Base Saturation

The proportion of CEC satisfied by basic cations (Ca, Mg, K, and Na) is termed percentage base saturation (BS
%). This property is inversely related to soil acidity. As the BS% increases, the pH increases. High base
saturation is preferred but not essential for tree fruit production. The availability of nutrient cations such as
Ca, Mg, and K to plants increases with increasing BS%.
Base saturation is usually close to 100% in arid region soils. Base saturation below 100% indicates that part
of the CEC is occupied by hydrogen and/or aluminum ions. Base saturation above 100% indicates that
soluble salts or lime may be present, or that there is a procedural problem with the analysis.
5.3.2

CEC and Availability of Nutrients

Exchangeable cations, as mentioned above, may become available to plants. Plant roots also possess cation
exchange capacity. Hydrogen ions from the root hairs and microorganisms may replace nutrient cations from
the exchange complex on soil colloids. The nutrient cations are then released into the soil solution where
they can be taken up by the adsorptive surfaces of roots and soil organisms. They may however, be lost from
the system by drainage water.
pg.

30

Additionally, high levels of one nutrient may influence uptake of another (antagonistic relationship). For
example, K uptake by plants is limited by high levels of Ca in some soils. High levels of K can in turn, limit Mg
uptake even if Mg levels in soil are high.
5.3.3

Anion Exchange

In contrast to CEC, AEC is the degree to which a soil can adsorb and exchange anions. AEC increases as soil
pH decreases. The pH of most productive soils in the US and Canada is usually too high (exceptions are for
volcanic soils) for full development of AEC and thus it generally plays a minor role in supplying plants with
anions.
Because the AEC of most agricultural soils is small compared to their CEC, mineral anions such as nitrate
(NO3- and Cl-) are repelled by the negative charge on soil colloids. These ions remain mobile in the soil
solution and thus are susceptible to leaching.

5.4

Organic matter

Soil organic matter consists of a whole series of products which range from undecayed plant and animal
tissues through ephemeral products of decomposition to fairly stable amorphous brown to black material
bearing no trace of the anatomical structure of the material from which it was derived and it is the latter
material that is normally defined as humus.
Humus is a complex and rather resistant mixture of brown or dark brown amorphous and colloidal organic
substances modified from the original tissues or synthesized by the various soil organisms.
5.4.1

Non- humified & humified organic matter:

Soil organic matter consists of two major types of compounds, unhumified substances and the humified
remains of plant and animal tissues.
The non-humified organic matter is composed of compounds released during decomposition in the original
or slightly modified form.
Although numerous organic compounds are present in the plant tissue, only a few exist in soils in detectable
amounts after their release in soils. They are
Primarily
i.
ii.
iii.
iv.
v.
vi.

Carbohydrate
amino acids and proteins
lipids
nucleic acids
lignin and
organic acids

Humified organic matter or humic matter is a group of compounds that includes humic acids, fulvic acids,
hymotomelanic acid and humans. This humified soil organic fraction is also known as humus or currently as
humic compounds. Today humic compounds are defined as amorphous, colloidal poly dispersed substances
with yellow to brown black color and high molecular weights.
5.4.2

Sources of organic matter

5.5

Plant tissue

The original/primary source of the soil organic matter is plant tissue. Under natural conditions, the tops &
roots of trees, shrubs, grasses and other native plants annually supply large quantities of organic residues.
Even with harvested crops, one tenth to one third of the plat tops commonly fall to the soil and remain there
or are incorporated into the soil.
But these organic materials are decomposed and digested by soil organisms; they become part of the
underlying soil by infiltration or by actual physical incorporation. Accordingly, the residues of higher plants
provide food for soil organism, which in turn create stable compounds that help maintain the soil organic
levels.
pg.

31

5.6

Animals

The secondary sources of organic matter are animals.


As they attack the original plant tissues, they contribute waste products and leave their own bodies as their
life cycles are consummated. Certain forms of animal life, especially the earthworms, termites, and ants also
play an important role in the translocation of soil and plant residues.

5.7

Soil organisms

Another source of organic matter is soil organisms. It is of ecological significance.


5.7.1

Types of materials present in organic matter:

There are three types of material in soil organic matter. These are:
(i) Fresh or undecomposed material: Materials in which the anatomical structure of the plant substances
is still visible.
(ii) Partially decomposed materials: Soft green portions are decomposed in this stage. This decomposition
depends upon the composition of the tissues.
(iii) Completely decomposed material: In this stage, the materials are completely decomposed, and are
called humus.
The whole of the organic residue is not decomposed all at once or as a whole. Some of the constituents are
decomposed very rapidly some less readily, and others very slowly. The speed with which the organic
residues are decomposed depends on the nature and abundance of various constituents that make up the
residues, and the environmental condition, viz, moisture supply, aeration, temperature and soil reaction,
under which the microorganisms carry out their activities. As the original material is decomposed new ones
are simultaneously synthesized in the forms of microbial bodies and tissues.
It is evident that soil organic matter consists of plant, animal and microbial residues of various stages of
decomposition and contains, at any given time,
(i)
(ii)
(iii)

original residues;
Various products of their decomposition, both simple and complex;
Newly synthesized microbial bodies, both dead and alive.

5.7.2

Composition of plant tissues:

On a volume basis, the moisture content of plant residues is high; varying from 60 to 90% and the rest 10 to
40% is solid matter.
On a weight basis, 75% is H2O & 25% is solid matter, there are 11% C, 10% O, 2% H & the rest 2% is others
(N, P, K, Mg, As, etc. i.e., ash).
On an elemental basis (number of atoms of the elements), hydrogen predominates. In representative plant
residues, there are 8 hydrogen atoms for every 3.7 carbon atoms and 2.5 oxygen atoms (H: C: O = 8:3.7:2.5).
These three elements dominate the bulk of organic tissue in the soil. Even though other elements are present
only in small quantities, they play vital role in plant nutrition and in meeting microorganism body
requirements.
The actual organic compounds in plant tissue are many and varied and they can be grouped into a small
number of classes. Representative percentages as well as ranges are shown in the following figure:

pg.

32

Figure 6: Typical composition of representative green plant material


The carbohydrates, which range in complexity from simple sugars and starches to cellulose, are usually the
most prominent of the organic compounds found in plants.
Fats and oils, which are somewhat more complex than carbohydrates and less than lignins, are found
primarily in seeds & leaf coatings.
Proteins contain- in addition to carbon, oxygen and hydrogen about 16% nitrogen and smaller amounts of
other essential elements such as sulfur, manganese, copper and iron. Proteins are primary sources of these
essential elements. Simple proteins decompose easily while the complex crude proteins are more resistant to
breakdown and release their nitrogen.
Lignins which are complex compounds with multiple type or phenol structures are components of plant cell
walls. The content of lignin increases as plants mature and is especially high in woody tissues. Lignins and
polyphenols are notoriously resistant to decomposition.

5.8

C:N ratio (Carbon to Nitrogen)

The ratio of carbon to nitrogen is the carbon: nitrogen ratio or the C:N ratio. There is always more carbon than
nitrogen in organic matter. It is usually written as C:N and is a single number, because it expresses how much
more carbon than nitrogen there is. For example if the ratio is 20, this means that there are 20 grams of
carbon for each gram of nitrogen in that kind of organic matter. If the ratio is 100, it means that there are 100
grams of carbon for each gram of nitrogen. So if the number is low it means that the amount of carbon is
reasonably similar to the amount of nitrogen. If the ratio is a large number, it means that there is considerably
more carbon than nitrogen. The C:N ratio does not tell us what form the carbon and nitrogen are in, just how
much is there.
The C:N ratio of the organic material added to the soil influences the rate of decomposition of organic matter
and this results in the release (mineralisation) or immobilization of soil nitrogen.
If the added organic material contains more nitrogen in proportion to the carbon, then nitrogen is released
into the soil from the decomposing organic material.
On the other hand, if the organic material has a less amount of nitrogen in relation to the carbon then the
microorganisms will utilize the soil nitrogen for further decomposition and the soil nitrogen will be immobilized
and will not be available.

pg.

33

5.8.1

Importance of the C:N ration in soil

The C:N ratio is important because of what happens when organic matter is incorporated into soils. First, the
larger organisms like mites and soil animals break it into smaller pieces. Then the fungi and bacteria start to
decompose it (they secrete enzymes to break up the chemical compounds it is made of). When the enzymes
have disrupted the compounds, the bacteria and fungi can use some of the parts released in this process as
nutrients. For example, if the enzyme is degrading a protein, the microbe would be able to use the carbon,
nitrogen and sulphur (if there is some) for its own cell wall structure and cellular contents. Excess nutrients to
the requirements of the microorganisms are available for other soil organisms or plants to use. The
microorganisms can access nitrogen in soil more easily than plants can, so the plants sometimes miss out.
This means that if there is not enough nitrogen for all the organisms, the plants will probably be nitrogen
deficient and nitrogen addition will be needed to meet the requirements of the plant. This is why
incorporating organic matter into soils can change the amount of nitrogen (and other nutrients) available to
plants. Incorporating organic matter that has a high C:N ratio will probably cause some nitrogen deficiency in
the crops/plants, at least in the short-term.
5.8.2

Calculation Procedures of Carbon Nitrogen Ratio

Example: A farmer incorporated 2,560 kg of fresh organic matter into the soil. It contained 55% carbon with
a carbon nitrogen ratio of 20:1. As this material decomposes, will there be a decrease (immobilization) or an
increase (release) in soil nitrogen? And by how many kg? Let us calculate the soil nitrogen status.
Fresh organic matter added = 2,560 kg Carbon content of organic matter= 55% Carbon: nitrogen ratio = 20:1
Step I :

The amount of carbon present in the organic matter added to the soil.

2,560 kg of fresh organic matter x 0.55 carbon content =1,408 kg of carbon in organic matter
Step II:
The amount of nitrogen present in the organic matter added to the soil. Fresh
organic matter contains 1,408 kg of carbon and its C:N ratio is 20:1 .
The nitrogen content of the organic matter is

1,408kg
= 70 kg
20
Step III:

The amount of C and N required for the microbes to form new tissues

As fresh organic matter is decomposed, the microbes use 75% of the carbon for energy and, the remaining
25% of the carbon is used to form their new tissue.
To form their new tissue, microbes use nitrogen from soil or from the added organic matter. Microbes require 1
kg of N for every 8 kg of carbon as the C:N ratio of microbes is 8:1.
Carbon content in fresh organic matter is 1,408 kg. Of this one fourth is used for new tissue.
The amount of carbon used by microbes for forming new tissue is

1,408kg
= 352 kg
4
The amount of nitrogen required by microbes to form the new tissues:
Microbes require 1 kg of N for every 8 kg of carbon to form the new tissue.
Therefore the amount of Nitrogen required for microbes using 352 Kg of Carbon is

pg.

34

352kg
= 44 kg 8
8
Step IV
Finally we compare the two nitrogen values. Fresh organic matter contained 70 kg of N, and microbes used 44
kg of N to form new tissue.
The balance nitrogen available is = 70 - 44 = 26 kg
NB: A POSITIVE balance indicates that the N in organic matter was more than the nitrogen required for the
microbes, and this excess amount of N will be released into the soil, could be available for plants.

Try this problem:


Farmer incorporated 2,630 kg of fresh organic matter into the soil. It contained 51 % carbon
with a carbon nitrogen ratio of 28 : 1. As this material decomposes, will there be a decrease
(immobilization) or an increase (release) in soil nitrogen? And by how many kgs? Calculate
the soil nitrogen status?

pg.

35

6. THE COLLOIDAL NATURE OF SOIL


6.1

Soil Colloids

These are the tiniest particles in soil; known to be made of very fine clay and highly decomposed humus
particles. They are too small to be seen with a light microscope, but their clear images can be made with
electron microscopes. The upper limit of their diameter is usually given as 0.0001mm though particles
somewhat larger may react similarly but to a lesser extent. For comparison, it would take 254,000 of these
particles, side by side, to extend 1 inch (2.54 cm). Because of the sizing, they have very large reactive
surface area hence, they are very active chemically and physically; Colloids are the most chemically active
fraction of the soil and are closely associated with many reactions involved in plant nutrition.
Since colloidal clay and humus particles have negatively charged and positively charged sites, nutrient ions
that are essentially for plant growth are attracted to the colloidal surface of the opposite charge. (The
positively charged ions are called cations and the negatively charged ions are called anions). They are weakly
held as a reserve supply to plants to draw upon. Without the attraction between the ions and colloids, the
leaching of ions deeper into the soil and beyond the reach of roots would be much greater in humid regions.
The nature of the colloidal systems is not only dependent on the colloids themselves, but also on the ions
attracted to them. These attracted ions may be exchanged partly according to the specific ions that are
dominant (bigger in quantity) in solution. This process is called ion exchange. In almost all soils except some
in tropical regions, the negatively charged sites on colloidal surfaces are much more numerous than positive
sites, so the usual process is cation
6.1.1

Classification of colloids

Soils contain colloids which can be roughly divided into two general groups- organic and inorganic.
Organic colloids are formed as a result of activities of soil organisms. All organisms contain certain colloidal
materials which are essential for the life of the organisms. The biological nature of organic colloids makes
them more variable and to a degree more subject to control by man than the inorganic colloids.
Inorganic colloids are basically the clay minerals. They comprise much greater portion of most soils than the
organic colloids and is more known of their structure and genesis.

6.2

Clays

Mineral particles such as feldspar grains from granite are made up of mostly three elements: Si, O and Al.
Therefore, they are called aluminosilicates. Small feldspar particles slowly change into clay minerals by
weathering. These clay minerals are also aluminosilicates but they differ from feldspar in two ways: the clay
minerals have some water molecules in their structure, and they have a platy or layered structure. T hey tend
to have flat laminated, crystalline, plate-like shapes; i.e. they tend to fit together like the pages in a book or
like pieces of mica which tend to break apart along parallel planes. This flat shape tends to give clays even a
greater surface area than they might otherwise have. In addition to the normal surface area of a clay, some
kinds of clays also tend to have what is called internal surfaces, i.e. areas on the interior of the crystals
which may exhibit the same properties of adsorption and reactivity as the external surface.
Each clay particle, a micelle, usually has an electronegative charge which attracts positively charged ions to
the clays. This property is very important for adequate plant nutrition. Clay minerals may be divided into
silicate clays and hydrous oxide clays.
6.2.1

Mineralogy of clay

The basic crystalline structure of feldspars and some other minerals consist of a silicon atom surrounded by
four oxygen atoms to form a tetrahedral shape similar to a 4 sided pyramid. These tetrahedral are bound
together to form sheets. The oxygen atoms of the adjacent tetrahedral are bound together through covalent
bonds. These sheets of tetrahedral form an important part of the crystalline structure of clay minerals.
pg.

36

Another basic unit present in the clay minerals is the aluminium octahedron; this is made by six oxygen
atoms surrounding one aluminium atom. The oxygen atoms are very large compared to the aluminium atom
which occupies the space left in the centre of this arrangement. The planes created by this arrangement form
an 8-sided figure, hence the name octahedron. The aluminium atom is larger than the silicon atom hence it
requires larger space.
Atoms other than silicon and aluminium can exist in these spaces; size is an important factor in determining
whether an atom can substitute in a crystalline structure.
Adjacent octahedral may share common oxygen atoms in a manner similar to the sharing of oxygen in the
tetrahedral. Thus sheets of octahedral may be built up. In many cases, hydrogen is associated with the
oxygen atoms producing hydroxyls. If all of the hydroxyls are shared, there are no excess charges and a
mineral called Gibbsite

{Al(OH)3} results.

The silicon tetrahedral and the aluminium octahedral provide the basic building blocks for the clay minerals.
The basic crystalline units are made up of combinations of the tetrahedral and octahedral. These are able to
combine because the oxygens of the tetrahedral and the hydroxyls of the octahedral are nearly the same
size. Thus, an apical oxygen in the tetrahedron may replace a hydroxyl in the octahedral layer. The
substituted oxygen will then function in both layers; This may be repeated several times. With each
substitution, some of the residual charge is dissipated resulting in a structure with a neutral charge.
Just as a plant leaf is made up of distinct layers of cells, the very small, flat clay crystals are made up of
definite layers of ions. Most silicate clay particles are sandwich-like, with two silica layers (silicon plus oxygen)
between which is an alumina layer (aluminum plus oxygen). They area called 2:1 clays because of this
arrangement. Smectite and hydrous mica are clays of this type.
Clay of 1:1 type is like an open faced sandwich; there is a single silica layer adjacent to a single alumina layer
( Aluminium + hydroxyl). Kaolinite is a common 1:1 type clay. Plates of Hallosyte ( a variety of Kaolnite) tend
to curl.

Figure 8 Clay particles are extremely small. In some cases the layers tend to curl
These 2:1 and 1:1 types of clays are called layer lattice silicate clays. The ions in each layer are arranged in a lattice-like
geometric pattern.

Figure 9
6.2.2

ions in silicate clays tend to form a geometric pattern such as in this kaolinite

Groups of silicate clays

Several groups of layer silicate clay minerals have been identified and within each group, there are many
specific clay minerals. (only 3 are discussed to illustrate the nature & importance of clay)
pg.

37

Smectite group
Montmorillonite is a common member of the smectite group. It is a 2:1 type clay with a high capacity to hold plant
nutrients and to swell and shrink on wetting and drying.
Each lattice consists of analuminium octahedra bound between two layers of silicon tetrahedral

Figure 10

Layer lattice crystals of montmorillonite clay.

Variations within this group are mainly due to the amount of substitution of Mg and ferrous ion for Al 3+ in the alumina layer.
Soils that have high amounts of montmorillonite clay can be very troublesome particularly when wet. They are expanding
lattice clays whereby their strong affinity for water causes the clay particles to spread apart and readily slip past one
another. This results in what is called low bearing strength, which means that foundations of buildings and roads built on
these clays are likely to fail (slip) and cause cracking in the super-structure, particularly on slopping ground. When
montmorillonitic soils dry, cracks of nearly 2 (5cm) or more may open. Debris may fall into these cracks and cause the soil
to buckle when it is wetted. Montmorillonitic soils become very sticky and difficult to till when wet and very hard when dry.
As a result, farmers can work them only at just the right moisture content. Unimproved roads on montmorillonitic soils
become impassable in rainy seasons.
The inner (alumina) layer of montmorillonite clay lattice is made up of Al, H and O ions. All the negative and positive
charges balance and neutralize each other within this layer only if the three named ions are present. In montmorillonite
clay, about a quarter of the Al 3+ have been replaced by Mg2+ or Fe2+; ions with 2 positive charges have replaced ions with 3
positive charges. This produces a deficiency in positive charges which results in excess of negative charges at the surface
of the crystal lattice. These are permanent negative charges that developed when the crystals were formed.
Smectite clays tend to be associated with the sub-humid and arid climatic regions. When found in humid regions, they are
generally soils formed from shale or in the residue from basic rocks.

Hydrous mica group


Hydrous mica has a rather slight structural difference from the primary mineral (mica) that is found in granite.

Figure 11
water.

Layer lattice crystals of hydrous mica clays have lower capacity to hold plant nutrients and absorb

It is probably derived by the weathering of mica. It is associated with regions where weathering has not been
severe and where the soil is neither very acidic nor basic. A member of this group is called illite. Hydrous mica
is like montmorillonite in that it has a 2:1 lattice structure, but the lattice layers are held together by a mutual
bond with potassium ions between them. This bonding minimizes the swelling and shrinking and results in
pg.

38

good bearing strength for this clay and in reduced stickiness when wet. Illite has a lower capacity to hold
plant nutrients than montmorillonite.
The presence of hydrous mica in a soil does not make the soil unstable in the way that montmorillonite does.
A predominance of hydrous mica clay in a soil indicates lack of severe weathering. Such clays are likely to be
found in the cool climatic zones where precipitation is high enough to remove soluble salts from the soil.
When the inter-layer K is removed completely by weathering, an expanding lattice 2:1 clay called vermiculite
is formed. It does not shrink and swell as much as montmorillonite does. In vermiculite, the negative charge is
derived from the isomorphous substitution of Al 3+ for Si4+ in the outer layer. As a result, vermiculite has a
higher negative charge than montmorillonite.

Kaolinite
An important clay mineral with a 1:1 lattice. Its basic structure consists of one layer of tetrahedral (silica) and
one layer of octahedral (alumina).
Properties:
Very low shrink-swell potential
CEC 3-15 meq%
Size: 0.1 5.0 microns
Low plasticity and cohesion.

Figure 12

Representation of Kaolinite group

Several of these basic units grouped together form a kaolinite particle; thus, a unit of kaolinite would be like a
sheet of plywood and a sheet of soft-board glued together. The plywood would represent the tetrahedral layer
and the soft-board would represent the octahedral layer, and the glue, the apical oxygens from the
tetrahedral layer bonded to the octahedra. A stack of several of these units would correspond to a kaolinite
particle.
It can be seen that kaolinite has the least silica of these silicate clays. This is the result of the intense
weathering that is characteristic of warm regions of the world. One important property of kaolinite is the fixed
spacing between the lattice layers. This is due to the attraction of hydrogen of the hydroxyl ions in an alumina
layer for the oxygen in the adjacent silica layer. The bond between these lattice layers is of great importance
because it renders kaolinite less sticky and gives the soil a greater bearing strength than with other types of
silicate clays. Kaolinite has a very low capacity to hold plant nutrients and it absorbs less water than 2:1
clays.
6.2.3

Sources of negative charge on silicate clay mineral

The negative charge on silicate clays in soil comes from 2 sources. A typical silicate clay of the type 2:1
illustrates this principle.
First, the silica layer develops a negative charge from the oxygen ions along the edge of the crystal. Only
one of the oxygens two negative charges is combined with the silicon ion, so at the plane where the crystal
ends, there are oxygen ions with one negative charge unsatisfied. The figure below depicts this charge
distribution in two dimensions, with an unsatisfied charge at each of the lattice.

pg.

39

Figure 13

development of negative charge on silicate clay

The oxygen ions are not shown in this schematic diagram, but their location is similar to the ionic
arrangement in the silica layer shown in figure 9. This source of negative charge is called edge charge,
although it is low, it is the main charge on the kaolinite clay. The edge charge in allophone is a bit higher.
Edge charge is a pH-dependent charge because, under acidic conditions, the H + ion can nullify the negative
charge. Therefore, this is not permanent.
The second source of negative charge arises when one ion is substituted from another during the
formation of the silicate clay crystal, without any change in its form. This is called Isomorphous (equal form)
substitution, and it can occur in different ways. In some clays, the Al 3+ ion substitutes for a Si4+ ion in the
outer (silica layers), whereas in other clays a Mg 2+ ion may substitute for Al3+ in the alumina layer. Either way,
one negative charge results in the crystal and the charge is permanent.
6.2.4

Non-Crystalline Silicate Clays

When volcanic ash weathers in a relatively short time, some nearly amorphous silicate clays form. Two of the
clay minerals are allophone, which is spherical, and imogolite, which is threadlike. Except for their small size,
they share few of the properties of the layer silicate clays. This presence is germane to the classification of
soils of volcanic origin.
6.2.5

Oxide Clays

Apart from silicate clays, oxide clay and hydrated oxide clay minerals also exist in soils.

Figure 14 A particle of oxide clays.

Normally, these are oxides of Al and Fe, are amorphous, and are found most abundantly in soils formed from
parent materials rich in Fe and AL in tropical and sub tropical regions where weathering has removed much of
the silica from the clay fraction. Oxide clays have little or no crystallinity and very low capacity to hold plant
nutrients. If Fe oxides are not very hydrated, they give soils a deep red colour. Ferrihydrite is one of the iron
oxide clays that is very hydrated; it is important in the classification of some volcanic region soils.
Where Al oxide is concentrated enough in the sub-soil and below, it is called bauxite, an ore of Al. Bauxite is
mined and loaded onto ships, and sent to areas where there is cheap electrical power for processing the ore
to yield pure aluminum metal.
6.2.6

Cation Exchange

Although most soil colloids have a net negative charge, no electrical charge in the soil goes unbalanced for
very long. Electrical neutrality is maintained.
A soil colloidal system has a double layer of charges. The inner layer is the negative charge of the colloidal
layer discussed above. The outer layer is formed by cations in the soil solution, which are attracted to the
colloidal surfaces in proportion to the negative charges available. This means that a divalent cation such as
Ca2+ or Mg2+ can neutralize two negative charges of the colloidal particle, whereas monovalent ions such as
K+, Na+, H+ can neutralize one negative charge each.
pg.

40

Figure 15

double layer of charges in a colloidal system

In acid soils, Al3+ ions which may be combined with one or two hydroxyls(OH -), can be attracted to colloidal
surfaces. There may be many other cations attracted to colloids in small amounts. Some of these are trace
elements that are of great significance to growing plants.
Cations in the outer layer are sometimes called swarm ions because they resemble a swarm of bees around
a hive, with the greatest concentration of the bees around the hive.

Figure 16

swarm of ions

In a soil colloidal system, these cations become hydrated so their effective radius includes the water
molecules. The ions with two or more positive charges (such as calcium) with one positive charge and a large
effective diameter to migrate farther from the surface of the colloid. All the attracted cations are in constant
motion, but attraction holds them tightly enough so they are not easily lost to water that is moving through
the soil. They are adsorbed ions because they are held to the surfaces of the colloids. This action is very
important to plant life because it keeps many nutrients within the root zone of the crops.
Cations (e.g. Ca2+) in a mineral fragment are released by weathering into the soil solution where they are
attracted to the particles of clay, around which they swarm. By exchange with hydrogen ions coming from
around roots, the nutrient ions finally reach the roots. There is an area called oscillation zone in which ions are
moving around roots and clay particles, this is the place of exchange, where one cation is replaced by another
with an equal amount of charge.

Figure 17 A cation replaces another

For example, one divalent ion (such as Ca2+) may replace another divalent ion such as Mg2+or it may replace
two mono-valent ions (such as two K+ ions). When a plant takes cations from the soil solution,

pg.

41

Figure 18 When a root takes in a cation into the plant.

When a plant takes cations from the soil solution, It releases hydrogen ions (H +) in exchange. For example
when one Ca2+ is taken into the plant, two hydrogen ions are given off into the soil solution. Thus, electrical
neutrality is maintained.
Cation exchange capacity

To quantify the negative charges on the soil colloids and therefore also the amount of cations attracted to
those charges, it is essential to express the amount in standard units. The units are centimoles of charge per
kg of soil material (cmolc/kg). the subscript-c indicates charge. The quantities determined are designated as
Cation exchange capacity (CEC). Typically, this measurement is determined on soil samples, but it may be
made on other earthly deposits such as lake-bottom sediments. There are many variations in the lab
determination of CEC, but the basic principles behind the methods are similar:
(1) A known weight of soil is placed in a beaker and reacted with a solution containing only one type of
cation, such as ammonium (NH4+).
(2) When it has been established that all the negative sites on the colloids have been satisfied with
ammonium ions, the ammonium ions are replaced with other ions, and the ammonium ions replaced
are measured.
(3) The cmolc /kg of NH4+ determined represents the CEC of the soil sample.
Frequently, the kinds of cations held on the colloidal system need to be determined. This can be done in a
similar manner where in the exchangeable cations in the soil sample are replaced with another cation and
those removed are annalysed individually. The kinds of cations found on the colloidal system of most soils are
quite predictable. They are Ca 2+. Mg2+, K+, Na+ and H+. in some soils, Al may also be very significant. When
Nitrogen is added to the soil in form of NH3 or the NH4+ ion, the adsorption of NH4+ becomes important. The
range in CEC for pure samples of the clays discussed here are tabulated below:
The range in CEC of some common clay materials
X
Kaolinite
Illite
Montmorillonite
Vermiculite

CEC in cmolc/kg
3 15
10 40
80 100
100 150

For most agricultural soils, the CEC ranges between 3 to 20 cmol c/kg. The very sandy soils are at the low end
of the scale and the very clayey soils or organic soils may have a CEC much higher than 20 cmol c/kg. The CEC
of the soil gives a strong indication of the ability of the soil to retain and release nutrients, but it does not
replace a soil test for plant nutrients.

pg.

42

Похожие интересы