Grade 9 Geography - Unit 3 Lesson 9 Soil and Soil Profiling

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1 Grade 9 Geography - Unit 3 Lesson 9 Soil and Soil Profiling Climate helps to create wet- and dry-climate soils. We know there are eight climate zones in Canada including the very dry Prairie and the very wet, temperate rainforest Pacific Maritime. If climate partially creates soil, Canada should have, at least, eight soils region. In fact, there are four major soil regions in Canada: Tundra in Canada far north Dry-climate soils of the Prairie region Complex soils of the mountain region Wet-climate soils covering all other parts of Canada including Ontario, the Maritime provinces, most of Quebec, the northern parts of the Prairie provinces and most of the Northwest Territories. Soil is very complex. It is not just a collection of fine mineral particles. Soil consists of four major components: (1) minerals, (2) dead organic matter, (3) air and (4) moisture. Minerals come from the parent material ( usually rock). Minerals become part of soil when the rock breaks apart due to weathering into smaller particles of sand, silt and clay. Many minerals are the nutrients needed for plant growth such as phosphorus. Bacteria and Organic Matter When plant and animals dies, bacteria decomposition occurs. Decomposition releases nutrients into the soil. The decaying organic material forms humus. Humus gives soil its dark colour. Air Spaces between decaying materials serves as air pockets. Air spaces are also formed by burrowing worms, insects and small, tunneling animals. Plants need air. Moisture Water dissolves nutrients in the soil. Water is also need for weathering of rock and decay of organic material, The formation of a soil is influenced by organisms, climate, topography, parent material and time. The values presented in Figure 1 are estimates for an average soil profile Figure 1. Percent composition of materials in soil for an average soil profile.

2 Soil Profile Background If you look in a soil pit or on a roadside cut, you will see various layers in the soil. These layers are called Soil Horizons. The arrangement of these horizons in a soil is known as a Soil Profile. Soil scientists or pedologists describe soil profiles and soil horizons to classify and interpret the soil for various uses. Soil horizons differ in a number of easily seen soil properties such as color, texture, structure, and thickness. Other properties are less visible. Properties, such as chemical and mineral content, consistence and reaction require special laboratory tests. All these properties are used to define types of soil horizons. Figure 2. Typical Soil Profile Capital letters O, A, B, C, and E are used to identify the primary horizons, and lowercase letters for distinctions of these horizons (see Figure 2). Most soils have three major horizons: Surface Horizon (A) Subsoil (B) Substratum (C). Some soils also have an Organic Horizon (O) on the surface, but this horizon can also be buried. The Master Horizon (E) is used for subsurface horizons that have a significant loss of minerals. Hard bedrock, which is not soil, is identified with the letter R. Soil has distinct layers or horizons. Together, these layers form the soil profile. Ground level - Plants grow and animals live here. A thick cover of plants can keep the soil cool and keep it from drying out. Decomposers recycle dead plants and animals into humus. Topsoil - Plants grow and animals live on top of the soil. This is sometimes called the organic layer. A thick cover of plants can keep the

3 soil cool and keep it from drying out. Decomposers recycle dead plants and animals into humus. Subsoil - This is a mix of mineral particles and some humus near the top. Subsoil is very low in organic matter compared to the topsoil. This is the layer where most of the soil's nutrients are found. Deep plant roots come here looking for water. Clays and minerals released up above often stick here as water drains down. Weathered Parent Material - This horizon can be very deep. There's no organic matter here at all. We're out of reach of all living and dead organisms down here. It's all rock particles, full of minerals. The entire soil profile used to look like this all the way to the surface. Physical weathering broke the parent material up into small pieces. Don't be fooled! This layer may contain rock particles that are different from the bedrock below. A river or a glacier might have brought it from somewhere else. Bedrock: We finally found solid rock! The bedrock formed before the soil above it. It will wait here until erosion or an earthquake exposes it to the surface. Then some of it will be weathered to become the next batch of parent material. The soil-making process will start all over again. Interpreting Soil Colour Colour can be used to identify the mineral content of a soil. Iron minerals provide the greatest variety of pigments in earth and soil (see Table 1). Table 1. Some Properties of Minerals Mineral Formula Colour Humus Black Iron sulfide FeS Black Ferrihydrite Fe(OH 3 ) Dark Red Calcite CaCO 3 White Hematite Fe 2 O 3 Red Quartz SiO 2 Light Gray Gypsum CaSO 4X 2H 2 O Very Pale Brown Colour, or lack of colour, can also tell us something about the environment. Anaerobic environments occur when a soil has a high water table or water settles above an impermeable layer. In many soils, the water table rises in the rainy season. When standing water covers soil, any oxygen in the water is used rapidly, and then, the aerobic bacteria go dormant. Anaerobic bacteria use ferric iron (Fe 3+ ) in goethite and hematite. In this process, the iron is reduced to colorless, water-soluble ferrous iron (Fe 2+ ) which is returned to the soil. Other anaerobic bacteria use Mn 4+ which is reduced to colorless, soluble Mn 2+. The loss of pigment leaves gray colors of the underlying mineral. If water stays high for long periods, the entire zone turns gray.

4 When the water table edges down in the dry season, oxygen re-enters the soil. Soluble iron oxidizes into characteristic orange colored mottles of lepidocrocite (same formula as goethite but different crystal structure) on cracks in the soil. If the soil aerates rapidly, bright red mottles of ferrihydrite form in pores and on cracks. Usually ferrihydrite is not stable and, in time, alters to lepidocrocite. Soil Texture Soil texture refers to the size distribution of the mineral particles found in a representative sample of soil. Particles are normally grouped into three main classes: (1) sand, (2) silt and (3) clay. Table 2. Particle size range for sand, silt and clay Type of Material Particle Particle Size Range (mm) Sand Silt Clay <0.002 Soil ph Soils support many inorganic and organic chemical reactions. Most reactions depend on soil chemical properties. One of the most important soil chemical properties is ph. Soil ph is mainly controlled by the concentration of free hydrogen ions in the soil matrix. Soils with a large concentration of hydrogen ions are acidic; whereas, alkaline soils have a relatively low concentration of hydrogen ions. The ph scale goes from 1 to 14. A soil with ph of 7 is neutral. Values greater than 7 are alkaline (basic) while ph less than 7 is acidic (see Figure 3). Figure 3. ph scale.

5 Canada s Soil Profiles As we have learned, Canada has four soil regions: Tundra Wet-climate Dry-climate Complex soils of the mountain areas Each region has its own unique soil profile. Two processes related to climate contribute to soil formation: (1) leaching and (2) calcification. Leaching is a natural process by which chemicals and minerals are transported downwards through a soil profile. This soil is typical in a wet climate region. Water is continually moving downward taking dissolved materials with it. Horizon A is usually thin and poor in quality. Horizon B also contains little nutrients and other soluble materials. Typically, minerals such as iron and aluminum occur in Horizon B. Calcification occurs in warm, semi-arid environments, usually under grassland vegetation. Horizon A in this soil tends to be rich in organic matter and high in soluble bases. The B Horizon of the soil is enriched with calcium carbonate precipitated from water moving upward from below called Capillary Action. Calcium is the main material deposited at the surface. Task Using the materials provided and the information about soils in your textbook (Page 147), make soil profiles representing (1) wet-climate soil and (2) dry-climate soil. Make a soil profile for an area with the following characteristics: (1) low-lying (2) heavy rainfall (3) waterlogged NOTE: In a waterlogged setting, bacterial activity (i.e., decomposition of plant material) is slowed. NOTE: Decaying plant material often releases acids that will react with the iron.

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