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Soil Monoliths for the Last Acre Ceremony and Beyond 

Soil Monoliths for the Last Acre Ceremony and Beyond

Story by Julia McCormick, Soil Scientist, Bryan, and Laurie Kiniry, SDQS, Temple

During the fall months of 2010, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil scientists from Bryan and Temple combined efforts to produce seven soil monoliths for the Last Acre Ceremony which was held November 10, 2010, in Temple. The Last Acre Ceremony marked the completion of the initial soil surveys in Texas. After 111 years and 171,891,840 million acres, this occasion commemorated a historical success that defines teamwork and dedication.

In keeping with the theme of teamwork and dedication, soil scientists and support staff took on the challenge to produce seven monoliths. A soil monolith is a 5 ft. long x 1 ft. wide vertical slice of a soil pit face in profile, as it would appear in situ, displaying the major characteristics of the specific soil series sampled. Retired soil scientists, Conrad Neitsch and Mike Risinger, who are veterans of this process, were recruited to teach others the methodology and to build the display box. Few people realize the amount of time and energy it takes to produce one, much less seven.

Two soil pits were dug at the ARS Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory/Texas AgriLife Blackland Research Center in early October. For a week, a team of six or more soil scientists excavated seven pit faces in a Houston Black soil to eventually mount in display boxes. The face of the pit was scored with a template and then several inches were removed from the pit surface on a board, hoisted out of the pit (an undertaking needing several people), and transported to the NRCS warehouse at Temple. Over a period of six weeks, the monoliths were transferred to a finished display board, picked, glued, and ultimately transformed into works of natural art to be presented to our partners in appreciation for their contributions to the Texas Soil Survey.

The Houston Black Series was selected for sampling because it is the proposed Texas State Soil. It occurs on about 1.5 million acres in the Blackland Prairie extending from north of Dallas to south of San Antonio and is a classic Vertisol with highly expansive clays. The characteristic, cracking when dry, made gluing the profile into the display cabinet a tricky feat, but the resulting monoliths have captured this quality associated with the Houston Black Series.

The final task associated with the Last Acre Ceremony was concluded when the soil monoliths were presented to our partners to display proudly in the halls of academia or in the offices of government.

For Information on Houston Black: http://www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov/soil/statesoil.html

For the Lone Star Link report on the Last Acre Ceremony: http://www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov/news/lonestarlink/tx_soils.html

For information on �Monolith Collection and Preparation � For soils without restrictive layers�: http://www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov/soil/mo9.html

For interesting website for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, �Dig It! The Secrets of Soil�: http://forces.si.edu/soils/index.html

Retired soil scientist Conrad Neitsch instructs Cody Langston and Richard Reid Crew with last of seven monoliths collected, Jake Bushong, Cody Langston, Richard Reid, Laurie Kiniry, Jamey Douglass, and Julia McCormick

Retired soil scientist Conrad Neitsch instructs Cody Langston and Richard Reid

Crew with last of seven monoliths collected, Jake Bushong, Cody Langston, Richard Reid, Laurie Kiniry, Jamey Douglass, and Julia McCormick

Commemorative Monolith and Shovel presented by Dennis Williamson (l) at the Last Acre Ceremony. Assisting is Richard Reid (r) Cody Langston and Jake Bushong in the shored pit

Commemorative Monolith and Shovel presented by Dennis Williamson (l) at the Last Acre Ceremony. Assisting is Richard Reid (r)

Cody Langston and Jake Bushong in the shored pit
Richard Reid holding board while Jake Bushong and Cody Langston ready the soil for removal  

Richard Reid holding board while Jake Bushong and Cody Langston ready the soil for removal