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Soil classification and mapping

Themes: Introduction | Soil classification and mapping | Some of the major world soils | Quiz

The Cranfield University national soil map Given the fact that there are many different types of soil in any one country it is important to be able to identify and name the types of soil (just as we name different trees, different flowers), and to know where the different types are located. Unfortunately soils are much more difficult to classify than plants and animals because they are not discrete bodies but form a more or less continuous sheet across the landscape. Furthermore, much of the soil profile is beneath our feet and out of sight whereas plants are above ground and visible.

There have been several attempts to develop a soil classification beginning over a hundred years ago. Early classification systems were based on soil characteristics such as soil texture, e.g. sand, loam, clay, or the nature of the parent material, e.g. alluvial soils, gravelly soils. Some of the classification systems have been established for a single country, others for the soils of the world. Alongside the development of the systems of classification, most countries have developed systems of soil mapping aimed at identifying the types soil and their location.

Unfortunately, as classification has become a major part of soil science, so concepts and approaches have become more scientifically rigorous and involving quite complex names and systems for soils, making it difficult for the non-specialist to understand some of the terminology and approaches. Yet it is important that soils are subject to a classification system and hopefully it will be possible to develop a popular classification for soils in addition to the more complex ones. Here, we use a simple, broad approach to soil classification.

Themes: Introduction | Soil classification and mapping | Some of the major world soils | Quiz