Soil Technical Note-1 (Revision 4)

Central Great Plains MLRA Region 5
MO5 Soil Technical Note-1 (Revision 4)

January 9, 2012

Subject: SOI – Implementation Policy for the Central Great Plains Major Land Resource Area Office Region 5 Official Soil Series Descriptions

Purpose. Provide policy and information necessary to propose and revise Official Series Descriptions (OSDs)

This policy is intended only for the OSDs that are the responsibility of the Central Great Plains Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) Office Region 5 (MO5).

  1. All new OSDs submitted to the MO5 must use the new guidelines and template. Units will be metric with optional inclusion of English equivalents in parentheses.
  2. Prior to the final field review, all OSDs used or affected by the project, must include revisions to the competing series section. Revised OSDs should be reformatted using the new guidelines and template. They must pass the OSD_Check_v1.6 program prior to being submitted to the MO5 office.
  3. Responsibility for reformatting all other OSDs (those not covered in items 1 or 2) will be handled on a case-by-case basis between the MO and the project office.
  4. When revising an OSD, pull back a text copy from the OSD site using the ftp option. DO NOT copy/paste while viewing an OSD online, as this will result in extraneous characters being inserted into the file that will cause errors. Use Microsoft Word with track changes to make edits. Formatting of text with fonts and emboldened type should not be done. Follow the guidance and line-by-line directions in the National Soil Survey Handbook (NSSH), Part 614. Submit both .docx files with the track changes and the .txt file used in the OSD_Check_v1.6 to the MO.
  5. When revising an OSD, if the horizon nomenclature or terminology used to describe soil properties is out of date or obsolete, it should only be updated if the type location is visited and the typical pedon re-described.
  6. Upon receiving an OSD, the MO will run the OSD through spell check and the OSD_Check_v1.6 program. Any OSDs not passing spell check and/or the OSD_Check_v1.6 program will be returned to the originating office for correction.

Supplemental Guidelines for Completing OSDs

Author’s initials: A maximum of three sets of initials will be allowed. The initials will be those of the original author and the two most recent people to edit the series. The most recent individual will be listed last. The original author should only put their initials on the original draft. The soil data quality specialist who edits the OSD at the MO5 is responsible for adding their initials. It is recommended that the initials not be changed by the soil data quality specialist if the edit is minor and inconsequential such as correcting a “typo” or a misspelled word.

Introductory paragraph: The following format for the introductory paragraph should be used:

The Alpha series consists of ? (depth), ? drained soils that formed in ? (parent material--modifier, kind, and origin). Alpha soils are on ? (landform(s) in ? MLRA ?). Slopes range from ? to ? percent. Mean annual precipitation is about ? millimeters (? Inches) and the mean annual temperature is about ? degrees C (? degrees F).

Note--use only terms recognized in Part 629 of the NSSH, Glossary of Landform and Geologic Terms.

List only the MLRA where the type location should be the central concept.


The Alpha series consists of moderately deep to shale, well-drained soils that formed in loamy slope alluvium derived from sandstone overlying clayey residuum derived from shale. Alpha soils are on backslopes of hills in Nebraska and Kansas Loess-Drift Hills, MLRA 106. Slopes range from 15 to 40 percent. Mean annual precipitation is about 460 millimeters (18 inches) and the mean annual temperature is about 7 degrees C (44 degrees F).

Typical pedon: The following format for the typical pedon should be used:

Alpha ? (surface texture), on a ? (aspect), ? (slope shape), ? percent slope in ? (land cover) at an elevation of ? meters (? feet). (Colors are for dry soil unless otherwise noted.) When described on ? (description date), the soil was ? from ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches) (soil moisture zone).


Alpha loam, on a north-facing, convex, 4 percent slope in rangeland at an elevation of 2,134 meters (7,000 feet). (Colors are for dry soil unless otherwise noted.) When described on March 13, 1991, the soil was moist from 13 to 76 centimeters (5 to 30 inches) and dry below.

Pedon description: Refer to Part 614 of the NSSH for more detailed guidance on the content of pedon descriptions. Below are a few additional guidelines.

Surface fragments (rock or pararock) and surface litter are described just above the first horizon. For example:

The surface is covered by about 15 percent channers, 30 percent cobbles, 5 percent stones, and 3 percent boulders. The fragments are sandstone. The average distance between stones is 1.5 meters (5 feet) and between boulders is 3 meters (10 feet). About 10 percent is bare ground and 5 percent is covered by litter.

Below is the sequence of features described for a horizon as outlined in Part 614 of the NSSH:

  • Color (dry or moist, the most common condition)
  • Texture
  • Color (dry or moist, opposite of the condition initially given)
  • Mottles (dry or moist, non-wetness related; these are sometimes referred to as “lithochromic”)
  • Structure (Commas are not used to separate terms in the phrase that describes structure. The word “structure” is used only once in describing compound structure; for example, “weak coarse prismatic structure parting to moderate medium subangular blocky.”)
  • Consistence (dry, moist, stickiness, plasticity)
  • Roots
  • Pores
  • Additional features:
    • Redoximorphic features (concentrations and depletions, if present)
    • Clay films
    • Concretions o Carbonates (effervescence, % volume, size, kind, calcium carbonate equivalent)
    • Gypsum (% volume, size, whether pedogenic or geogenic, kind, and percent by weight)
    • Salts (% volume, size, kind, electrical conductivity)
    • Sodium (SAR value)
    • Pebbles, stones, and other fragments
    • Brittleness
    • Smeariness
    • Durinodes
    • Plinthite
  • Reaction
  • Lower boundary
  • Range in thickness

Type location: The following format should be used:

? County, ? (state); about ? kilometers (miles) ? of ? (general location); located about ? meters (feet) ? and ? meters (feet) ? of the ? corner of section ?, T. ?., R. ?. (Public Land Survey location); ? USGS quad; lat. ? degrees ? minutes ? seconds N. and long. ? degrees ? minutes ? seconds W., NAD ?. (North American Datum and year)


Any County, Anystate; about 16 kilometers (10 miles) southwest of Anyplace; located about 305 meters (1,000 feet) south and 91 meters (300 feet) east of the northwest corner of section 6, T. 5 N., R. 8 W.; Anywhere USGS quadrangle; latitude. 35 degrees 40 minutes 20 seconds N. and longitude. 108 degrees 30 minutes 20 seconds W., NAD 83.

Note--give as complete and comprehensive a location as possible. Double check to make sure your locations agree with each other.

Range in characteristics: Refer to Section 614.06 of the NSSH for detailed guidelines on this section. It is imperative that only representative pedon descriptions be used to develop the range of characteristics. The range of characteristics for a series should not be expanded to cover properties from taxadjuncts. The use of unusual or questionable descriptions when developing the range of characteristics, magnify problems when competing different soil series. In addition, ranges should be limited to those ranges that have been observed in the field or are supported by lab data. For example, the observed range of the percent clay in the particle-size control section for a pedon is 35 to 45 percent. This range, 35 to 45 percent clay, should be listed in the range of characteristics, and not the default range of 35 to 60 percent clay for the fine particle-size class.

In the OSD template, the statement “Depths are measured from the top of the mineral soil surface.” is listed after the range in characteristic heading. This statement applies to soils that have “O” horizons. This statement should be deleted for soils that do not have “O” horizons.

The range in characteristics section is divided into two parts. The first part addresses the whole soil and the second part addresses the individual horizons.

Note--the following examples for the range in the characteristics section are not totally inclusive or applicable to every pedon. Some items can be added, or deleted, as needed and justified. However, the order, content, and format should be followed.

Soil moisture: The moisture pattern of the soil moisture control section (smcs) is defined here. Ideally, data on the actual number of days dry or moist would be known and listed here. The time of the year that the smcs is wettest and driest needs to be identified. Such information is important for differentiating series that are morphologically similar, but occur in different climatic patterns.

Some soils have smcs that do not correlate to the “climatic” precipitation amount for the area. Some examples would be soils that occur at the highest elevations of steep canyon sides on north-facing slopes, or those soils occupying the lowest positions on a landform that receive additional run-on water. These soils have a higher “effective” precipitation. For those soils that this situation applies, explanations for the difference between the “climatic” precipitation and the “effective” precipitation should be given. Keep in mind that any precipitation amounts listed in the OSD are “climatic” precipitation amounts, and not “effective” precipitation amounts.

Following are some examples of soil moisture statements:

Example 1:

The soil moisture control section is usually dry, in all parts, 105- to 160-cumulative days from April through October. It is usually moist, in some part, 50- to 105-cumulative days during the same period. It is intermittently moist in some part from November through April; driest during May and June; ustic moisture regime bordering on aridic.

Example 2:

The soil moisture control section is moist in some part from December to March; intermittently moist from July to September; driest in May and June; ustic moisture regime bordering on aridic.

Example 3:

The soil moisture control section is moist in some part from December to April; intermittently moist from July to December; driest in May and June; typic ustic moisture regime. This soil occurs in an area that is considered to be aridic bordering on ustic. However, because it occurs at the highest elevations on north-facing slopes of steep canyon sides it has higher “effective” precipitation.

Soil temperature: X to Y degrees C.

Note--this is soil temperature, not air temperature as in Geographic Setting. See discussion in Soil Taxonomy for estimating soil temperatures.

Particle-size control section (weighted average): It is important that the particle-size control section be clearly defined. As a minimum, the clay content must be listed. For many soils the sand content and size fraction is very important and is listed. The amount, lithology, and size of rock fragments are also listed. List only the observed ranges and not “default” ranges. For example, if a soil has a fine-loamy particle-size class, do not automatically default to 18 to 35 percent clay when the observed range is only 18 to 25 percent clay.


Clay content: 18 to 25 percent
Sand content: 15 to 50 percent fine sand and coarser
Rock fragments: 15 to 30 percent basalt gravel and cobbles

Endosaturation and Episaturation: These terms are used to describe the water table, or zones of saturation. Give the depth range to the zone of saturation and the months that zone is saturated.


Depth to episaturation: 50 centimeters to 100 centimeters (20 inches to 40 inches) from May to September.

Individual horizon(s): The following format for the ranges for individual horizons should be used. The properties in the format below are not inclusive or applicable to all pedons. Properties may be added or deleted as needed and justified.

? horizon:

Hue: ?

Value: ?

Chroma: ?

Texture: ?

Clay content: ? to ? percent

Sand content: ? to ? percent

Redoximporphic features: state whether concentrations or depletions or both are present, elaborate ranges of colors and quantities are not necessary.

Rock fragments: ?

Pararock fragments: ?

Base saturation: ? to ? percent

Calcium carbonate equivalent: ? to ? percent

EC (mmhos/cm): ? to ?

Gypsum: ? to ? percent

SAR: ? to ?

Reaction: ?

Hue/Value/Chroma: The range for hues should read red to yellow, not yellow to red. For example, the range for hue should read “5YR or 7.5YR” and not “7.5YR or 5YR”. Use the term “to” in place of “through” when listing a range of 2 or more hues, values, or chromas. The term “to” is understood to include the end value. If the range is the same for both dry and moist colors (value and chroma), then this should be stated by adding the phrase “dry or moist.”


Hue: 7.5YR to 2.5Y
Value: 3 to 5 dry, 3 to 4 moist
Chroma: 2 to 3 dry or moist

Texture: Textures will be written out. For surface horizons, it is suggested that only the surface textures used in approved mapunits be listed even though other surface textures may have been observed in the field.

Rock and pararock fragments: List only ranges for volume (percent), lithology (kind), and size class. Do not list ranges for roundness, rupture resistance classes, or shape. Roundness, rupture resistance, and shape should be described in the pedon description.


Rock fragments are limestone or mostly limestone with some sandstone fragments; 35 to 70 percent total rock fragments; 35 to 50 percent gravel; 10 to 30 percent cobbles; 0 to 10 percent stones.

Competing series: Competitors are listed alphabetically. If the series being described is established, tentative series may be listed if they are identified as tentative by placing “(T)” after the series name. State abbreviations are not needed. Competing statements are written individually in the order of listing, except for those soils with the same competing characteristics that can be grouped together. Due to many recent revisions to Soil Taxonomy many series do not have updated classifications. This has created the dilemma of how to write competing series sections for the current competitors and previous competitors. For previous competitors where the change is a missing activity class, list as a competing series, otherwise do not compete.

If a competing series does not exist, enter a statement similar to the following:

There are no competing series – or – the Alpha series is the only series in the family.

Before writing competing statements, it is critical that the soil series being described has a complete and concise range of characteristics and other properties identified. Poorly written OSDs make it much more difficult to differentiate series. Competing statements should only identify the “major” differences in properties. Differences in every property need not be described. List only those properties that are distinctly different between the competing series when writing competing statements. Properties that overlap can not be used to differentiate series. Only properties in the series control section can be used to separate series.

Do not use different horizonation symbols as a reason to compete series. However, the pedogenic process represented by the symbol may be used if it is diagnostic. Following are some examples:

“Alpha soils have BA horizons” should not be used because the BA horizon is not diagnostic.

“Alpha soils have a Bt horizon” is not correct. “Alpha soils have an argillic horizon” or “Alpha soils have accumulations of illuviated clay” is correct.

“Alpha soils have Bk horizons” is not correct. “Alpha soils have accumulations of secondary calcium carbonate” or “have a calcic horizon” is correct.

“Alpha soils have Bg horizons” is not correct. “Alpha soils have gleyed horizons” is correct.

The particular property, or feature, that is used as the basis for competing, must be clearly described in the series being described and in the competitors. In the following example, the Alpha soil is being competed against the Beta soil:

The statement “Beta soils have a soil moisture control section that is driest during May and June.” is correct only if the soil moisture control section for the Alpha soil is described as not being driest during May and June. If no description for the soil moisture control section exists for the Alpha soil, then the statement about Beta soils being driest in May and June can not be used. This would apply to any property or feature used as a basis for competing series.

The following is a list of features used to differentiate soils. It is suggested that this list be used as key for writing competing statements. For example, if item 1 (soil depth) can not be used as a property to compete on, then go to item 2 (diagnostic features), and so on until a property is found that can be used as a basis for competing. This list is not inclusive for all pedons but will work for most soils.

  1. Soil depth
  2. Presence or absence of a diagnostic horizon or feature
  3. Soil chemistry (base saturation, salinity, sodicity, percent gypsum, pH, etc.)
  4. Soil color (Hue)
  5. Content and/or type of rock or pararock fragments
  6. Thickness of the epipedon
  7. Thickness of a diagnostic horizon
  8. Soil temperature
  9. Soil moisture
  10. Other

Geographic setting: The following semi-tab format should be used. Other items can be added as needed to help describe the setting. (These must agree with what is stated in the introductory paragraph.)

Parent material: ?

Landform: ?

Slopes: ? to ? percent

Elevation: ? to ? meters (? to ? feet)

Mean annual air temperature: ? to ? degrees C (? to ? degrees F)

Mean annual precipitation: ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches)

Precipitation pattern: ?

Frost-free period: ? days

Note--any climatic entries should be from data from the standard “normal” period which covers the years 1971-2000. In addition, precipitation amounts must represent the precipitation that actually falls and not an “effective” precipitation amount. The setting uses air temperatures, not soil temperatures. The range of soil temperatures is given in the Range in Characteristics section.

Parent material: Describe the modifier, kind, and origin of the parent material. Use only terms recognized in Part 629, Glossary of Landforms and Geologic Terms, in the NSSH. The name of the geologic formation can also be identified.


Parent material: Loamy slope alluvium derived from sandstone overlying clayey residuum derived from shale of the Mancos formation.

Landform: List the landform(s) and position(s) on the landform(s) (if significant). Use only terms recognized in Part 629, Glossary of Landforms and Geologic Terms, in the NSSH. If the soil only occurs on the toeslopes of hills, then identifying the toeslope position if significant. If a soil occurs throughout a floodplain, or on dunes, identifying a position is not significant.


Landform: Paleoterrace on river valley

Precipitation pattern: Briefly describe the timing and form of precipitation. Make sure to include the wettest and driest months for those settings that do not have even precipitation throughout the year. If the precipitation is truly even throughout the year this needs to be stated.

Example 1 (One precipitation peak):

Precipitation is usually evenly distributed throughout the year with the exception of May and June being the driest months and July and August being the wettest months. Summer precipitation occurs during intense summer thunderstorms.

Example 2 (Two precipitation peaks):

Precipitation occurs mostly during the months of January through March and August through October. June and July are the driest months.

Frost-free period: Refer to Section 618.10 of the NSSH for detailed guidelines on this section.

Geographically associated soils: As a general guideline, list one soil that occurs lower on the landform, one that occurs on the same position and one that occurs higher on the landform. Do not list more than four soils. Identify the landform position and how the soil differs from the named series. Do not list all the differences. List only the most obvious difference. Do not repeat the difference for a soil that has been listed in the competing series section. This section applies to only those soils associated at the original type location or soil survey area. This section should only be updated when the type location has been moved to an area with different associated soils or the names of the associated soils have changed.


Geographically associated soils: These are the Alpha, Beta, and Delta soils. The Alpha soils are less than 20 inches to sandstone bedrock and occur on summits of ridges. The Beta soils do not have calcic horizons and are on similar positions. The Delta soils have mollic epipedons and are on toeslopes of hills.

Drainage and saturated hydraulic conductivity: List drainage, saturated hydraulic conductivity, and flooding (or ponding) statement if flooded (or ponded).

Check to see if the drainage, zone of seasonal saturation, and the classification are compatible. Review relationship of redoximorphic features with the stated drainage class. The relationship should be reasonable.

Check to see if the hydraulic conductivity agrees with the series description. Soils with two hydraulic conductivity classes are most often inaccurate.


Drainage: poorly drained
Saturated Hydraulic Conductivity: low
Flooding: frequent brief flooding most common in the months of April, May, and June

Use and vegetation: List the major use or uses. Do not confuse cover-type terms such as rangeland, with land use terms such as livestock grazing. List key species of the native plant community, or the present community if the native community is not known.

Example 1:

Corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, and wheat are the principal crops. Some areas are used for hay and pasture. Native vegetation is tall grass prairie.

Example 2:

The major use is livestock grazing. The native plant community is Wyoming big sagebrush, winterfat, blue grama, and western wheatgrass.

Distribution and extent: List the geographic distribution and extent by referencing a general state or MLRA location. Give the Land Resource Region (LRR) and the MLRA that the series occurs in. List the Land Resource Unit (LRU) if applicable. Give the extent of the series using the following guidelines:

  1. Small extent or not extensive—(less than 10,000 acres)
  2. Moderate extent or moderately extensive—(10,000 to 100,000 acres)
  3. Large extent or extensive—(more than 100,000 acres)


Northwest Anystate; Land Resource Region M, Central Feed Grains and Livestock Region, Major Land Resource Area 106; Nebraska and Kansas Loess-Drift Hills. The series is of moderate extent.

MLRA office responsible: List the MLRA office that is responsible for the series. The format of the entry is city, state. For example, Salina, Kansas.

Series proposed or established: One of these headings is used, depending on the current status of the series. List the year, county, and state where the series was first proposed or established. The name of the soil survey area is included if it includes more than one county or parts of a county. List the source of the name for the series. If the name is coined, state so. The format that should be used is:

? county, ? state, ? soil survey area, ? year. The name ? .


Coffey County, Kansas, 2008. The name is from a nearby small town.

Remarks: There are two parts to this section. The first part identifies the diagnostic horizons and features recognized in the pedon. The second part is for listing pertinent remarks about the series.

Diagnostic horizons and features recognized in this pedon are: The purpose of the section is to list the diagnostic horizons and features that define the series. The zone and horizons representing the diagnostic horizons and features are identified. It is not necessary to repeat criteria from Soil Taxonomy. For example, do not repeat the requirements for a mollic epipedon for a soil that has a mollic epipedon that occurs from 0 to 38 centimeters (0 to 15 inches) and includes the A and Bt1 horizons. All that is needed is to identify the zone and horizons that are included in the mollic epipedon. The following format should be used. This format is not inclusive for all pedons and can be modified as needed and justified.

Particle-size control section: The zone from ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

? epipedon: The zone from ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

? horizon: The zone from ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

? horizon: The zone from ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

Lithic contact: The contact with ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

Paralithic contact: The contact with ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

Redoximorphic concentrations: In the zone from ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

Redoximorphic depletions: In the zone from ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

Vertic features: The presence of ? at ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

Endosaturation: The zone of saturation at ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

Episaturation: The zone of saturation at ? to ? centimeters (? to ? inches). (? horizons)

Abrupt textural change: At the upper boundary of the ? horizon.

Lithologic discontinuity: At the upper boundary of the ? horizon.

Other features: ?

Remarks: Any remarks that would help to better define the series or address unresolved problems are recorded here. Also stated is whether or not the assigned cation-exchange activity class is supported by lab data, or is inferred from lab data from similar soils in the area. Give the lab sample numbers that are used to support the cation-exchange activity class. The taxonomic version of the Keys to Soil Taxonomy is given as a way to help keep track of the vintage of the classification represented by the current description. If the classification has changed, with this version, give the old classification here.

The assignment of the cation-exchange activity class is supported by lab sample(s) numbers ?.
- Or -
The assignment of the cation-exchange activity class is inferred from lab data from similar soils in the surrounding area.

Taxonomic Version: ?


Taxonomic Version: Eleventh Edition, 2010. The previous classification was Fine, montmorillonitic, Typic Eutroboralfs.

Add the initials, date, and document any revisions that are being proposed. Do not remove previous entries as they provide a history of the changes.

Additional data: List any supporting laboratory, or other data collected for this pedon. Give the name of the lab and the soil survey sample number. If lab tests such as particle-size analysis, calcium carbonate equivalent, salinity, were done at the project office, this needs to be stated.

The OSD ends with the following text:

National Cooperative Soil Survey

Processing OSDs

There are multiple steps that an OSD must go through before it is stored in the OSD database. Following is a listing of the general steps involved in processing an OSD.

  1. A new series is deemed necessary by the soil survey project leader and/or the soil data quality specialist.
  2. A series name is chosen and checked against existing series names for any possible conflict or similarity.
  3. The soil data quality specialist “reserves” the series name by entering the series in the Soil Classification (SC) database. The SC record for that series must be populated before the OSD can be stored in the OSD database.
  4. Using the OSD template, a first draft version of the OSD is created at the soil survey project office.
  5. The OSD is spell checked and then run through the OSD_Check_v1.6 program. Any errors found with the check program are corrected. The following error message cannot be corrected and may be ignored: major heading missing or out of order – “expecting MLRA OFFICE RESPONSIBLE.” Contact your MO for details on the OSD_Check_v1.6 program. Refer to Exhibit 614-2 of the NSSH for items checked during the checking program.
  6. The OSD is electronically forwarded to the MO responsible for the survey area for review and processing.
  7. The MO reviews and edits the OSD as needed. The OSD is spell checked and again run through the OSD_Check_v1.6 program.
  8. The MO staff circulates the OSD to surrounding states and regions for review and comment. Pertinent suggestions and revisions are incorporated.
  9. Once all checks have been passed, the OSD is transmitted from the MO for storage in the OSD database.
  10. Prior to storage in the OSD database, the OSD is again automatically checked against the series record in the SC database. If there are inconsistencies, the MO is notified via e-mail. Once the OSD is stored in the OSD database, the MO is notified via e-mail that the OSD has been stored.

The OSD database has some interactive functions built into the system. For example, section headings such as “Type Location” or “Competing Series” are automatically emboldened as are the horizonation symbols in the pedon description section. Also, names of series are highlighted in blue and underlined. Clicking on the name of the series will automatically bring up the OSD for that series. However, just because an OSD passed all checking routines and is stored in the OSD database, does not guarantee that all the interactive functions are operable for that particular OSD. Following are some additional guidelines that should be followed to ensure that the interactive functions will work for your OSD.

  1. All blank lines must have a paragraph mark (represented by the symbol ¶) in column one (1). Any extra spaces (or other formatting symbols) at the beginning of the line will not work.
  2. There should only be one (1) blank line above each section heading. More than one (1) blank line above the section heading will prevent the heading from being emboldened.
  3. All series names must match the spelling of the series name that is stored in the OSD database and the SC database.


State Soil Scientist/MO Leader

DIST: SS (MO5), MO Leaders – TX – CO – ND – MN – AR