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Map of the Month

The value of soil survey maps and the influence they have on the health and wealth of planet Earth are often overlooked. Simply put, the world’s population takes for granted the importance of the “ground” we stand on. This page is designed to generate awareness about the relationship between historic maps and today’s environmental triumphs. Soil maps have always been critical for conservation and “Helping People Help the Land.” 

Each of these maps has historical significance. Some illustrate the work of noteworthy soil scientists; others show information that provided insight and direction for doing the right thing for the land. Whether the scientific community is addressing erosion or global warming, soil survey maps and the story they tell are foundational for how we treat the land.

Click on each image below to open a PDF file.

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Soils differ from each other based on color, mineralogy, age, depth, and lateral boundaries with neighboring soils. But soils also differ for utilitarian purposes. Some soils have a greater ability than others to produce high crop yields, provide firm building foundations, purify contaminated water, or sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

This 1931 map provided a major step for understanding the meaning of “soils differ.” It identified soils as part of nature, showing how soil types are linked to the major biomes of grassland, forest, and desert.

By the late 1890s, when USDA was taking form, agricultural scientists and legislators widely recognized that more information was needed about the nation’s soils. To address that need, the USDA Division of Agricultural Soils and the National Cooperative Soil Survey were formed. They combined the expertise of the Division with land-grant universities and State and local agencies for the purpose of making soil maps. The aesthetic turn-of-the-century maps generated by the soil survey not only show soil patterns across the landscape, they also show features that are of interest to both historians and scientists.

Thumbnail for Map of the Month - October.
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International soil scientists, including Europeans, Chinese, Africans, and Latin Americans, have been essential in the development of the current USDA soil classification system.

Modern networks of communication, transportation, global agriculture, and environmental issues have made international communication about soils more important than ever. Consequently, staff of the NRCS World Soil Resources branch have created maps that capture and display the state of world soils. This map shows where soils have been greatly modified by human activity, both in modern and ancient times.

The map shows the concentration of calcium carbonate in the soils of Nebraska. Calcium carbonate (CaCO3), like soil organic matter, stores carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is important because excess carbon dioxide is a major driver for climate change.

In the past, research has focused on using no-till agriculture and other management techniques to remove excess carbon dioxide from the air and store it in soils as organic matter. Currently, research includes how to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere and store it in soils as CaCO3.

Thumbnail for Map of the Month - August.
Thumbnail for Map of the Month - July.

Hugh Hammond Bennett is most widely known as a champion for making the Nation and the world aware of the perils of soil erosion. During the first part of his career, however, he was a mapper, a soil scientist, and a pedologist.

Although most of his work was in the southeastern United States, he made some of the first soil maps of Alaska, as shown by this 1914 soil map of the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. This map not only shows the soils (including some organic soils, some alluvial soils, and many Cryic soils), it also shows the extent of the glaciers in 1914.