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NSSH Amendment 12

May 2007

This is a summary of changes to the National Soil Survey Handbook (NSSH). The official copy of the NSSH is in HTML format and MSWord files at

A new style of formatting is introduced with these revised sections. The following summary points out specific areas where technical content is significantly revised over that of the previous version.

617–Soil Survey Interpretations


Points out that interpretations are also used to assist in pre- and post-planning activities for national emergencies.


Stresses that national interpretations cannot be modified for state or regional uses because they are designed exclusively for national use across all political boundaries by NRCS and other agencies.


ADDED responsibility statements for the National Technology Support Centers, State Soil Scientists, and the NSSC.


Assigns the National Technology Support Centers representatives as review coordinators, responsible for coordinating and summarizing all regional feedback, and providing it to the National Leader, Soil Survey Interpretations, for action.

Stipulates that the regional soil interpretations coordinating team can either be standing or ad hoc committees within the regional conference committee structure.

The National Leader for Soil Survey Interpretations arranges for all NCSS cooperators to be notified of changes that have been made to an interpretation.


Contains specific instructions for reporting suspected errors and/or discrepancies in criteria or constructed interpretation logic to the owner of the interpretation, and details of how the interpretation owner will review and evaluate the reported error.


Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) added to the list naming protocols for creating a local interpretation from the National/Standard.

618–Soil Properties and Qualities


Bulk density, 15 bar: The calculations are corrected. The previous calculation was actually for oven dry bulk density, not 15 bar bulk density, and was therefore in error. Soils that are potentially impacted by this change are those with expansive clays.


ADDED: Oven dry bulk density plus a calculation for estimating.


Flooding Frequency, Duration, and Month: The HTML and MSWord files were out of synch; added to MSWord file “Flooding entries reflect the current existing and mapped condition with consideration for dams, levees, and other man-induced changes affecting flooding frequency and duration.


Horizon Depth to Bottom: Corrections are made to comply with 200 cm depth of observation – “Measurement should be estimated to a depth of 200 cm for most soils and to a depth at least 25 cm below a lithic contact if the contact is above 175 cm.


Hydrologic Group: Revised to contain general discussion only. The intent of this general discussion is to briefly explain hydrologic groups. For the complete definition and official criteria, users are instructed to go to (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2007. National Engineering Handbook, Title 210-VI, Part 630, Chapter 7, Hydrologic Soil Groups. Washington, DC.)


Liquid Limit: Specifies that the liquid limit for organic soil material is not defined, and is assigned “null.”


Plasticity Index: Specifies that the liquid limit for organic soil material is not defined, and is assigned “null.”

618.49 (2006)

Runoff (Index Surface Runoff) – DELETED. The interpretation for Runoff (Index Surface Runoff), is no longer supported nationally as a standard interpretation. In the survey conducted in 2006, very few states indicated that they still used or had a need for the interpretation. Therefore, the “UTIL-Comparison of Runoff, stored vs. calculated” Pangaea report in NASIS has been set to Ready for Use “No.” States are welcome to make a copy of the report if they choose to use it as a local interpretation.


Soil Erodibility Factors, USLE, RUSLE2: Establishes the use of “permeability control sections” for determining the K factor of any given mineral soil layer or horizon.


Texture Class, Texture Modifier, and Terms Used in Lieu of Texture:

New criteria differentiates terms used in lieu of texture “highly,” “moderately,” and “slightly decomposed plant material” from “muck,” “peat,” and “mucky peat” on the basis of saturation for less than 30 cumulative days versus 30 or more cumulative days.

New criteria for “mucky” and “peaty” texture modifier to get in synch with definitions in Field Indicators of Hydric Soils of the U.S.:
Used to modify near surface horizons of mineral soils that are saturated with water for 30 or more cumulative days in normal years (or are artificially drained). An example is mucky loam. Excluding live roots, the horizon has an organic carbon content (by weight) of:

  • 5 to < 12 percent if the mineral fraction contains no clay; or
  • 12 to < 18 percent if the mineral fraction contains 60 percent or more clay; or
  • (5 + (clay percentage multiplied by 0.12)) to < (12 + (clay percentage multiplied by 0.10)) if the mineral fraction contains less than 60 percent clay.

ADDED “highly organic” texture modifier for near surface horizons of mineral soils that are saturated with water for less than 30 cumulative days in normal years and are not artificially drained. Excluding live roots, the horizon has an organic carbon content (by weight) of:

  • 5 to < 20 percent if the mineral fraction contains no clay; or
  • 12 to < 20 percent if the mineral fraction contains 60 percent or more clay; or
  • (5 + (clay percentage multiplied by 0.12)) to < 20 percent if the mineral fraction contains less than 60 percent clay.

ADDED recommendations from ICOMANTH:

  • texture modifiers (i.e., artifactual, very artifactual, extremely artifactual)
  • terms used in lieu of texture (artifactual material)

Woody, grassy, mossy, and herbaceous texture modifiers: ADDED: Along with histic epipedons, these terms are to be used with organic horizons of any thickness that are saturated with water for 30 or more cumulative days in normal years (or are artificially drained), including those in Histels and Histosols, except for Folists.

Exhibit 618-5

Potential Frost Action: Footnotes are revised.

Exhibit 618-9

Guide for Estimating Ksat from Soil Properties: DELETED advice to “use non-carbonate clay”. This advice could not be supported in the original intent of Rawls, W.J., and D.L.Brakensiek. 1983. A procedure to predict Green and Ampt. infiltration parameters. In Advances in infiltration. Proc. of the Nat'l Conference on Advances in Infiltration. Dec. 12-13. Chicago, IL.

629–Glossary of Landform and Geologic Terms

This May 2007 revision includes the vast majority of changes requested since the last official update (2002), especially the subaqueous soils terminology. Questions not resolved at this time will be addressed and incorporated into future versions.



  1. Revised reference codes
  2. Clarifying comments attached to glossary terms – revised “colloquial.”
  3. Revised glossary terms: replaced fluviomarine sediments with fluviomarine deposits.

Summary List of Revised Terms

New terms Existing terms – Insertions made Existing terms – Deletions made
annular drainage pattern aggradation anthropogenic feature
artificial drainage pattern alluvial cone backswamp deposit
back-barrier beach anthropogenic feature bajada
barrier cove aquiclude barrier beach
bay bottom backswamp deposit barrier flat
centripetal drainage pattern bajada barrier island
circular gilgai barrier beach beach
coastal marl barrier flat beach sands
colluvial apron barrier island beach sands
cone karst beach break
coral island beach sands cove
deflation flat block field creep
deranged drainage pattern block glide cuesta valley
diatreme break cutter [karst]
drainhead complex cliff dendritic drainage pattern
dredged channel climbing dune deposit
dredge spoils cove desert pavement
dredge spoil bank creep dune field
dune traces cuesta earth pillar
erosional outlier cuesta valley estuarine deposit
erosional pavement cutter [karst] flute
estuarine subaqueous soils dendritic drainage pattern fluviomarine terrace
everglades deposit glacier outburst flood
fault block dip glaciomarine deposit
fault-block mountains drainage pattern hogback
fenster dune field igneous rock
filled marshland earth pillar lagoon
flatwoods estuarine deposit lake
flood-tidal delta estuary lowland
fluviomarine bottom flowtill marine deposit
fluviomarine deposit flute marl
freshwater marl fluviokarst paha
glacial groove fluviomarine terrace pediment
glaciokarst glacier outburst flood polje
granitoid graben pyroclastic
grady pond gut radial drainage pattern
half graben hogback radial drainage pattern
homoclinal ridge homoclinal reef
homocline igneous rock seep
inlet island shoal
intertidal karst shore complex
karst drainage pattern karst tower spoil bank
karstic marine terrace lagoon spoil pile
karst lake lake strike valley
lagoonal deposit landform subaqueous
lava landslide submerged - upland tidal marsh
mainland cove lava flow talus cone
mangrove swamp lowland tidal flat
marine lake [water] marine deposit tidal marsh
mine spoil, coal extraction marl tilted fault block
pinnate drainage pattern mud flat  
playette neck  
point bar [coastal] outwash fan  
road cut outwash plain  
sandur paha  
rectangular drainage pattern parallel drainage pattern  
relict-tidal inlet park  
semi-open depression parna  
slick rock pavement karst  
slickensides [pedogenic] pediment  
slickensides [geogenic] porcellanite  
solution chimney pyroclastic  
solution pipe radial drainage pattern  
solution platform radial drainage pattern  
strike [structural geol.] reef  
subaqueous landscapes residuum  
subaqueous soils sand flow  
submerged back-barrier beach seep  
thermokarst drainage pattern shoal  
tidal inlet shore complex  
toreva block sinkhole karst  
trellis drainage pattern slope wash  
tripoli solution corridor  
valley floor remnant solution fissure  
volcanic breccia spoil bank  
washover-fan apron spoil pile  
washover-fan flat strath terrace  
washover-fan slope strike valley  
window [tectonic] submerged - upland tidal marsh  
wind-tidal flat tableland  
zibar talus cone  
  tidal flat  
  tidal marsh  
  till-floored lake plain  
  valley-border surfaces  
  washover fan  
  wave-built terrace  
  wave-cut platform  
  welded tuff  


References were added/revised.

Exhibit 629-1

Revised the lists of landscape, landform, microfeature, and anthropogenic feature terms to accommodate revisions in the glossary.

Exhibit 629-2

Revised materials or material-related, structure, or morphological-feature terms to accommodate revisions in the glossary.

Exhibit 629-3

Revised the list of genesis - process terms and geologic time terms to accommodate revisions in the glossary.

Exhibit 629-6

Revised pyroclastic terms.

644–Delivering Soil Survey Information, Information Systems


ADDED: [The Soil Data Mart] is the official source for soil information delivered through various applications such as the data mart, Web Soil Survey, and field office technical guides.


Official data is REPLACED with Official soil survey information and emphasizes that the official source of soil information is the Soil Data Mart, a part of the National Soil Information System.


Policy statement added: Initial detailed soil survey information is to be posted when the spatial data is certified, the NASIS data is certified and both databases are ready to send to the Soil Data Warehouse; this is to occur not more than 1 year after mapping is complete.


ADDED: MLRA Soil Survey Office responsibilities.


Approval by the Director of Soil Survey is required for situations in which printed and bound copies are needed.


Includes the Web as an electronic source of soil survey information, and the printing of paper copies of the text requires special approval by the Director of Soil Survey.

Exhibit 644-1

ADDED footnote: “As we have progressed to automated development and delivery of soil survey information, taxonomic descriptions (series or higher taxa) are not required for a manuscript to meet minimum standards. Please note that you are not prohibited from publishing these descriptions, including the option to use the OSD. The MLRA regional office leader in the region may have additional insight and suggestions about this.”

Exhibit 644-4

DELETED: Purchase Agreement for which the Natural Resources Conservation Service agrees to furnish hard copies of the published soil survey, complete with maps.

647–Soil Map Development


Digital data capture: Introduces instruction to field map solely with electronic media and on-screen digitizing as much as possible, which prevents having to compile to orthophotography and hand- or scan-digitize.
Responsibilities added or modified for the MLRA soil survey offices and state offices.


Imagery: New instructions to use the on-line NCGC Ordering System at to acquire imagery and assorted products from the National Cartography and Geospatial Center. The ordering system was developed to streamline the process of ordering products and services from NCGC. The NCGC Ordering System replaces the Carto-19. Items such as imagery and orthophotography, map compilation materials, publication of soil survey products, SSURGO and digital map finishing standards, and status graphics are available through the on-line ordering system.


Permanent water and miscellaneous water will conform to soil map unit labels (i.e., alpha, numeric, or alphanumeric).


Special Labels: Label areas not yet mapped or digitized as part of a progressive survey NOTCOM, for not completed.


Digitizing Specifications–Tabular Attribute Data. Removed all the references to the NASIS tables.


DELETED Exhibits 647-5 thru 11.

651-Advance Soil Survey Information


Defines advance soil survey information as information that has been gathered but is not yet published to the Soil Data Mart. The purpose of providing advance soil survey information is to furnish users with soil maps, interpretations, and other data prior to final correlation of the data.


Policy statement added from NRCS General Manual, GM 430 Part 402.5(D): Soil data posted to the Soil Data Mart is official soil information that has been certified for use by the State Soil Scientist in participation with the State Technical Guide Committee for USDA programs.


Interim reports are obsolete with the advent of the Soil Data Mart and Web Soil Survey.


Statements added to help ensure that advance soil survey field sheets and digitized soil map are legible and consistent with adjoining areas, and accompanied with an identification legend, a feature and special symbols legend, and supporting explanatory material.


Labeling of Advance Soil Survey Information: A statement must specify that, although advance soil survey information may be correct, it is not official NRCS soil information. Only soil information posted to the Soil Data Mart is official NRCS information.