Soil covers much of the land on Earth. It is made up of minerals (rock, sand, clay, silt), air, water, and organic material (matter from dead plants and animals). Soil provides a substrate for plants (roots anchor in soil), a source of food for plants, and a home for many animals (insects, spiders, centipedes, worms, burrowing animals, bacteria, and many others).
A scientist who studies soil is called a pedologist.
- Types of Soil
- There are many different types of soils, and each one has unique characteristics, like color, texture, structure, and mineral content. The depth of the soil also varies. The kind of soil in an area helps determines what type of plants can grow. There are 12 orders (types) of soil: Alfisols, Aridisols, Entisols, Histosols, Inceptisols, Mollisols, Oxisols, Spodosols, Ultisols, Gelisols, Andisols, and Vertisols.
- Soil Formation
- Soil is formed slowly as rock (the parent material) erodes into tiny pieces near the Earth’s surface. Organic matter decays and mixes with inorganic material (rock particles, minerals and water) to form soil.
Soil is made up of distinct horizontal layers; these layers are called horizons. They range from rich, organic upper layers (humus and topsoil) to underlying rocky layers ( subsoil, regolith and bedrock).
- O Horizon
- The top, organic layer of soil, made up mostly of leaf litter and humus (decomposed organic matter).
- A Horizon
- The layer called topsoil; it is found below the O horizon and above the E horizon. Seeds germinate and plant roots grow in this dark-colored layer. It is made up of humus (decomposed organic matter) mixed with mineral particles.
- E Horizon
- This eluviation (leaching) layer is light in color; this layer is beneath the A Horizon and above the B Horizon. It 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).
- B Horizon
- Also called the subsoil - this layer is beneath the E Horizon and above the C Horizon. It contains clay and mineral deposits (like iron, aluminum oxides, and calcium carbonate) that it receives from layers above it when mineralized water drips from the soil above.
- 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.