Soils can differ from one another in their texture and grade. There are six different types of soil according to basic scientific study; sandy, clay, silty, loamy, chalky, & peaty. More advanced soil study is concerned with how soil can be classified according to its use and preservation; which of course varies among the different types. Soil type is most often determined by its parent material. climate, topography, and the influence of humans. It is noted that in the advance study of soil, there are thousands of different types.
Soil type is determined primarily by the texture, or size, of the mineral particles it’s composed of. In general, soil is composed of about 45% minerals, 5% organic material, and 25% each of air and water. The size of the mineral particles will determine a lot about the soil, such as how much air and water it can hold, how easily roots can grow in it, and how easily it can hold and transmit nutrients to plants. The three main categories of particle size are: clay (very fine particles), silt (fine particles) and sand (large particles). Soil type is determined by how much of each size particle the soil contains – clay soil is mostly composed of clay; silty soil of silt; and sandy soil of sand. All of these textures have certain advantages and disadvantages, so the best soil is a mixture of all three, called loam. Loam is composed of approximately 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. This allows for the perfect balance of drainage vs water retention, clumpiness vs graininess, and compactness vs fluffyness.
Beyond these basic classifications based on mineral size, soils can also be classed based on what specific materials they are composed of. Examples of this are chalky or peaty soil.
There are at least twelve soil orders that are classified based on location, vegetation, climate, parent material (what material was broken down to form the soil), profile development, and amount of physical/chemical weathering that has taken place.
These orders are:
Entisols: limited horizontal development
aridisols: located in hot, dry climates
alfisols: located in deciduous forests
ultisols: have undergone extensive weathering
gelisols: contain permafrost
andisols: formed from volcanic material
inceptisols: the most underdeveloped
mollisols: located in grasslands
spododols: acidic, located in coniferous forests
oxisols: highly weathered, red or orange from oxidization. Occur in tropical environments
histosol: have a rich organic content
vertisols: clay soils
Here’s a map of where these soil types occur in the US:
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