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Envirothon Introduction to Soils

Soils Online Study Guide

This page is the online Soils Study Guide to assist students in preparing for the NJ Envirothon. We hope that materials on this site will assist students in their preparation for the New Jersey Envirothon. Please continue to use the training trunks and other materials available through the Soil Conservation Districts.

The soil forming factors supply the initial material and conditions under which a particular soil will form. The soil forming processes result from the interactions of the soil forming factors. These processes influence and even create a soil’s physical and chemical properties.

1. Functions of Soils

Soils are important because they perform many important functions, including:

  1. Sustaining biological activity, diversity, and productivity
  2. Regulating and partitioning water and solute flow
  3. Filtering, buffering, degrading, immobilizing and detoxifying organic & inorganic materials
  4. Storing and cycling nutrients and other elements
  5. Providing support of socioeconomic structures

2. Variability of Soils

Soils vary from place to place due to differences in their Soil forming factors, Soil forming processes, and/or Soil properties:

a. Soil forming factors (see From the Surface Down, section 2)
  1. Parent material
  2. Climate
  3. Organisms
  4. Landscape position
  5. Time
b. Soil forming processes (see From the Surface Down, section 3)
  1. Additions 
  2. Losses
  3. Translocations 
  4. Transformations
c. Soil properties

1. Soil physical properties

  1. horizonation
  2. soil color
  3. soil texture
  4. soil structure
  5. soil consistence
  6. bulk density

2. Soil chemical properties

  1. Cation Exchange Capacity
  2. Soil Reaction (pH)

Reference: NRCS Soil Quality Institute website

Surficial geology and bedrock geology maps, and geologic information is available from New Jersey Geological Survey website.

These documents require Adobe Acrobat.

From The Surface Down (1.4 MB)

3. The Soil Environment

“Phases” of Soil

In their natural setting, soils exist as a “three-phase” system comprised of a:

  • “solid phase” – the soil matrix; includes inorganic material with various chemical and mineralogical properties, and organic material in varying degrees of decomposition
  • “liquid phase” – the soil solution; includes soil water and its dissolved substances
  • “gaseous phase” – the soil air; more variable in composition than the air above the soil

An ideal soil contains:

  • 50% solid matter, of which 45% is mineral soil material and 5% is organic soil material
  • 50% pore space, of which 25% is soil water and 25% is soil air

4. Special Topics on Soils

  1. Water Movement in Soils
  2. Effects of Saturation by Water on Soils
  3. Fragipans

For more information contact your local Soil Conservation District Office or Richard Belcher, NJ Envirothon Coordinator Phone: (609) 292-5540,  Fax: (609) 633-7229.

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This page last updated January 30, 2014