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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe how soils are formed
  • Explain soil composition
  • Describe a soil profile

Plants obtain inorganic elements from the soil, which serves as a natural medium for land plants. Soil is the outer loose layer that covers the surface of Earth. Soil quality is a major determinant, along with climate, of plant distribution and growth. Soil quality depends not only on the chemical composition of the soil, but also the topography (regional surface features) and the presence of living organisms. In agriculture, the history of the soil, such as the cultivating practices and previous crops, modify the characteristics and fertility of that soil.

Soil develops very slowly over long periods of time, and its formation results from natural and environmental forces acting on mineral, rock, and organic compounds. Soils can be divided into two groups: organic soils are those that are formed from sedimentation and primarily composed of organic matter, while those that are formed from the weathering of rocks and are primarily composed of inorganic material are called mineral soils . Mineral soils are predominant in terrestrial ecosystems, where soils may be covered by water for part of the year or exposed to the atmosphere.

Soil composition

Soil consists of these major components ( [link] ):

  • inorganic mineral matter, about 40 to 45 percent of the soil volume
  • organic matter, about 5 percent of the soil volume
  • water and air, about 50 percent of the soil volume

The amount of each of the four major components of soil depends on the amount of vegetation, soil compaction, and water present in the soil. A good healthy soil has sufficient air, water, minerals, and organic material to promote and sustain plant life.

Art connection

 Illustration shows a pie graph that outlines the composition of soil. Forty-five percent is inorganic mineral matter, 25 percent is water, 25 percent is air, and 5 percent is organic matter, including microorganisms and macroorganisms.
The four major components of soil are shown: inorganic minerals, organic matter, water, and air.

Soil compaction can result when soil is compressed by heavy machinery or even foot traffic. How might this compaction change the soil composition?

The organic material of soil, called humus    , is made up of microorganisms (dead and alive), and dead animals and plants in varying stages of decay. Humus improves soil structure and provides plants with water and minerals. The inorganic material of soil consists of rock, slowly broken down into smaller particles that vary in size. Soil particles that are 0.1 to 2 mm in diameter are sand    . Soil particles between 0.002 and 0.1 mm are called silt    , and even smaller particles, less than 0.002 mm in diameter, are called clay    . Some soils have no dominant particle size and contain a mixture of sand, silt, and humus; these soils are called loams .

Explore this interactive map from the USDA’s National Cooperative Soil Survey to access soil data for almost any region in the United States.

Soil formation

Soil formation is the consequence of a combination of biological, physical, and chemical processes. Soil should ideally contain 50 percent solid material and 50 percent pore space. About one-half of the pore space should contain water, and the other half should contain air. The organic component of soil serves as a cementing agent, returns nutrients to the plant, allows soil to store moisture, makes soil tillable for farming, and provides energy for soil microorganisms. Most soil microorganisms—bacteria, algae, or fungi—are dormant in dry soil, but become active once moisture is available.

Questions & Answers

what are runners
Godfrey Reply
what is an environment
Bwambale Reply
diagrams are not indicated, why?
Simon Reply
diagrams for what?
Everine
A vaccination is a treatment which makes the body stronger against an infection. The body fights infections using the immune system, which is made up of millions upon millions of cells including T cells and B cells.
Nworie
define the term immunity
Everine
can simply defined as an exemption from an attack
Nworie
difference between cell and cell membrane
Sunday Reply
cell is a basic unit of living body however cell membrane is a protective layer of cell.
Suhail
very good
Everine
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Everine
vaccine
Nworie
what do you understand by the term vaccine?
Everine
guy I need the answer of this question what occurs during photosynthesis
REAL Reply
Photosynthesis is the process that plants use to convert light into food. During this process, plants create carbohydrates starting with only carbon dioxide and water. Sunlight provides the energy that makes photosynthesis possible.
Stanley
@Stanley,that's how I could as well put it
Evans
what are different between genotype and phenotype
Martha Reply
what is light microscope and electronic microscope
Martha
what occurs during photosynthesis
Martha
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Martha
what is the meaning of computer science
Martha
what is ecology
Adeyemo Reply
what is zoology
Adeyemo
zoology branch of biology that study animals
Moses
a branch of biology which deals with the study of animals
Anita
A plant is a living thing that grows in the earth and has a stem, leaves, and roots
Bello Reply
what is a plant
dalitso Reply
A plant is a living thing that grows in the earth and has a stem, leaves, and roots
Bello
a plant is an is a living thing that is classified under autothrops because it makes its own food through the process of photosynthesis .
Joanne
a plant is also known as autotropic category and a plant have root & stem
Anita
what is plant
Odion Reply
Plants are autotrophic
Baramox
Then animal are heterotrophic
Iyiola
what are organisms
Godfred Reply
Living structures
Aryavarta
living and non living which charectrised by different properties
Anita
organisms living and nonliving components of the environment with distinct xtics
Tony
the diagram below show how the blood of a human embryo flows close to the mothers blood in the placenta . which substances are represent at x in higher concentrations than at y
Joyce Reply
what is ecology
Odion Reply
what is cell
Odion
what is cell
Odion
Is the basic unit of life
Agatha
what's biology
Okebe
biology is the study of life
Ali
I want to know more about biology
Okebe
What are enzymes?
Zanga
if you want to know more, please start studying biology from the beginning systematically
Best
enzymes are biological catalyst that speed up d rate biochemical reactions
Ning
What is a cell
Awal Reply
What are tissues
Awal
A cell is the smallest unit of living organisms.
hamidat
Tissues are group of similar cells performing a particular function.
hamidat
how to pronounce the word cyanobacteria
siva Reply
Cyano then bacteria. look that "cyano" is just like "ciyano".
hamidat

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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