Glossary of Soil Survey Terms

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Link to SSSA Glossary of Soil Science Terms
Official Glossary of Landform and Geologic Terms (PDF Document)
Glossary of Terms for Subaqueous Soils

ABC soil. A soil having an A, a B, and a C horizon.

Ablation till. Loose, permeable till deposited during the final down-wasting of glacial ice. Lenses of crudely sorted sand and gravel are common.

AC soil. A soil having only an A and a C horizon. Commonly, such soil formed in recent alluvium or on steep rocky slopes.

Aeration, soil. The exchange of air in soil with air from the atmosphere. The air in a well aerated soil is similar to that in the atmosphere; the air in a poorly aerated soil is considerably higher in carbon dioxide and lower in oxygen.

Aggregate, soil. Many fine particles held in a single mass or cluster. Natural soil aggregates, such as granules, blocks, or prisms, are called peds. Clods are aggregates produced by tillage or logging.

Alkali (sodic) soil. A soil having so high a degree of alkalinity (pH 8.5 or higher), or so high a percentage of exchangeable sodium (15 percent or more of the total exchangeable bases), or both, that plant growth is restricted.

Alluvium. Material, such as sand, silt, or clay, deposited on land by streams.

Area reclaim (in tables). An area difficult to reclaim after the removal of soil for construction and other uses. Revegetation and erosion control are extremely difficult.

Association, soil. A group of soils geographically associated in a characteristic repeating pattern and defined and delineated as a single map unit.

Available water capacity (available moisture capacity). The capacity of soils to hold water available for use by most plants. It is commonly defined as the difference between the amount of soil water at field moisture capacity and the amount at wilting point. It is commonly expressed as inches of water per inch of soil. The capacity, in inches, in a 60-inch profile or to a limiting layer is expressed as:

Class Inches/inch
Very low 0 to 3
Low 3 to 6
Moderate 6 to 9
High 9 to 12
Very high more than 1

Back-Barrier Beach: A narrow, elongate, intertidal, sloping landform that is generally parallel with the shoreline located on the lagoon or estuary side of the barrier island, or spit. Compare – Barrier Island.

Barrier Beach: A narrow, elongate, coarse-textured, intertidal, sloping landform that is generally parallel with the beach ridge component of the barrier island, or spit and adjacent to the ocean. Compare – Barrier Island. (Jackson, 1997; Peterson, 1981).

Basal till. Compact glacial till deposited beneath the ice (Lodgement Till is preferred).

Base saturation. The degree to which material having cation-exchange properties is saturated with exchangeable bases (sum of Ca, Mg, Na, K), expressed as a percentage of the total cation-exchange capacity.

Bedding planes. Fine stratifications, less than 5 millimeters thick, in unconsolidated alluvial, eolian, lacustrine, or marine sediments.

Bedding system. A drainage system made by plowing, grading, or otherwise shaping the surface of a flat field. It consists of a series of low ridges separated by shallow, parallel dead furrows.

Bedrock. The solid rock that underlies the soil and other unconsolidated material or that is exposed at the surface.

Bench terrace. A raised, level or nearly level strip of earth constructed on or nearly on the contour, supported by a barrier of rocks or similar material, and designed to make the soil suitable for tillage and to prevent accelerated erosion.

Bisequum. Two sequences of soil horizons, each of which consists of an illuvial horizon and the overlying eluvial horizons.

Blowout. A shallow depression from which all or most of the soil material has been removed by wind. A blowout has a flat or irregular floor formed by a resistant layer or by an accumulation of pebbles or cobbles. In some blowouts the water table is exposed.

Bog - Waterlogged, spongy ground, consisting primarily of mosses, containing acidic, decaying vegetation such as sphagnum, sedges, and heaths, that may develop into peat. Compare - fen, marsh, swamp.

Bottom land. The normal flood plain of a stream, subject to flooding.

Boulders. Rock fragments larger than 2 feet (60 centimeters) in diameter.

Broad-base terrace. A ridge-type terrace built to control erosion by diverting runoff along the contour at a nonscouring velocity. The terrace is 10 to 20 inches high and 15 to 30 feet wide and has gently sloping sides, a rounded crown, and a dish-shaped channel along the upper side. It may be nearly level or have a grade toward one or both ends.

Bulk Density - A measure of the weight of the soil per unit volume (g/cc), usually given on an oven-dry (110 C) basis

Calcareous soil. A soil containing enough calcium carbonate (commonly combined with magnesium carbonate) to effervesce visibly when treated with cold, dilute hydrochloric acid.

Caliche. A more or less cemented deposit of calcium carbonate in soils of warm-temperate, subhumid to arid areas. Caliche occurs as soft, thin layers in the soil or as hard, thick beds just beneath the solum, or it is exposed at the surface by erosion.

Capillary water. Water held as a film around soil particles and in tiny spaces between particles. Surface tension is the adhesive force that holds capillary water in the soil.

Catena. A sequence, or ""chain,'' of soils on a landscape that formed in similar kinds of parent material but have different characteristics as a result of differences in relief and drainage.

Cation. An ion carrying a positive charge of electricity. The common soil cations are calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and hydrogen.

Cation-exchange capacity. The total amount of exchangeable cations that can be held by the soil, expressed in terms of milliequivalents per 100 grams of soil at neutrality (pH 7.0) or at some other stated pH value. The term, as applied to soils, is synonymous with base-exchange capacity but is more precise in meaning.

Cement rock. Shaly limestone used in the manufacture of cement.

Channery soil. A soil that is, by volume, more than 15 percent thin, flat fragments of sandstone, shale, slate, limestone, or schist as much as 6 inches along the longest axis. A single piece is called a channer.

Chiseling. Tillage with an implement having one or more soil-penetrating points that shatter or loosen hard compacted layers to a depth below normal plow depth.

Clay. As a soil separate, the mineral soil particles less than 0.002 millimeter in diameter. As a soil textural class, soil material that is 40 percent or more clay, less than 45 percent sand, and less than 40 percent silt.

Clay film. A thin coating of oriented clay on the surface of a soil aggregate or lining pores or root channels. Synonyms: clay coating, clay skin.

Claypan. A slowly permeable soil horizon that contains much more clay than the horizons above it. A claypan is commonly hard when dry and plastic or stiff when wet.

Climax vegetation. The stabilized plant community on a particular site. The plant cover reproduces itself and does not change so long as the environment remains the same.

Coarse fragments. If round, mineral or rock particles 2 millimeters to 25 centimeters (10 inches) in diameter; if flat, mineral or rock particles (flagstone) 15 to 38 centimeters (6 to 15 inches) long.

Coarse textured soil. A soil with USDA Soil textures of  loamy fine sand or coarser (loamy sand or sand).

Cobblestone (or cobble). A rounded or partly rounded fragment of rock 3 to 10 inches (7.5 to 25 centimeters) in diameter.

Colluvium. Soil material, rock fragments, or both moved by creep, slide, or local wash and deposited at the base of steep slopes.

Complex slope. Irregular or variable slope. Planning or constructing terraces, diversions, and other water-control measures on a complex slope is difficult.

Complex, soil. A map unit of two or more kinds of soil in such an intricate pattern or so small in area that it is not practical to map them separately at the selected scale of mapping. The pattern and proportion of the soils are somewhat similar in all areas.

Concretions. Grains, pellets, or nodules of various sizes, shapes, and colors consisting of concentrated compounds or cemented soil grains. The composition of most concretions is unlike that of the surrounding soil. Calcium carbonate and iron oxide are common compounds in concretions.

Congeliturbate. Soil material disturbed by frost action.

Conservation tillage. A tillage system that does not invert the soil and that leaves a protective amount of crop residue on the surface throughout the year.

Consistence, soil. The feel of the soil and the ease with which a lump can be crushed by the fingers. Terms commonly used to describe consistence are;

  • Loose: Noncoherent when dry or moist; does not hold together in a mass.

    Friable: When moist, crushes easily under gentle pressure between thumb and forefinger and can be pressed together into a lump.

    Firm: When moist, crushes under moderate pressure between thumb and forefinger, but resistance is distinctly noticeable.

    Plastic: When wet, readily deformed by moderate pressure but can be pressed into a lump; will form a ""wire'' when rolled between thumb and forefinger.

    Sticky: When wet, adheres to other material and tends to stretch somewhat and pull apart rather than to pull free from other material.

    Hard: When dry, moderately resistant to pressure; can be broken with difficulty between thumb and forefinger.

    Soft: When dry, breaks into powder or individual grains under very slight pressure.

    Cemented: Hard; little affected by moistening.

  • Contour stripcropping. Growing crops in strips that follow the contour. Strips of grass or close-growing crops are alternated with strips of clean-tilled crops or summer fallow.

    Control section. The part of the soil on which classification is based. The thickness varies among different kinds of soil, but for many it is that part of the soil profile between depths of 10 inches and 40 or 80 inches.

    Coprogenous earth (sedimentary peat). Fecal material deposited in water by aquatic organisms.

    Corrosive. High risk of corrosion to uncoated steel or deterioration of concrete.

    Cover crop. A close-growing crop grown primarily to improve and protect the soil between periods of regular crop production, or a crop grown between trees and vines in orchards and vineyards.

    Dense layer (in tables). A very firm, massive layer that has a bulk density of more than 1.8 grams per cubic centimeter. Such a layer affects the ease of digging and can affect filling and compacting.

    Depth to rock (in tables). Bedrock is too near the surface for the specified use.

    Diversion (or diversion terrace). A ridge of earth, generally a terrace, built to protect downslope areas by diverting runoff from its natural course.

    Drainage class (natural). Refers to the frequency and duration of periods of saturation or partial saturation during soil formation, as opposed to altered drainage, which is commonly the result of artificial drainage or irrigation but may be caused by the sudden deepening of channels or the blocking of drainage outlets. Seven classes of natural soil drainage are recognized:

    For soil morphology associated with each drainage class please click here.

  • Excessively drained: Water is removed from the soil very rapidly. Excessively drained soils are commonly very coarse textured, rocky, or shallow. Some are steep. All are free of the mottling related to wetness.

    Somewhat excessively drained: Water is removed from the soil rapidly. Many somewhat excessively drained soils are sandy and rapidly pervious. Some are shallow. Some are so steep that much of the water they receive is lost as runoff. All are free of the mottling related to wetness.

    Well drained: Water is removed from the soil readily, but not rapidly. It is available to plants throughout most of the growing season, and wetness does not inhibit growth of roots for significant periods during most growing seasons. Well drained soils are commonly medium textured. They are mainly free of mottling.

    Moderately well drained: Water is removed from the soil somewhat slowly during some periods. Moderately well drained soils are wet for only a short time during the growing season, but periodically they are wet long enough that most mesophytic crops are affected. They commonly have a slowly pervious layer within or directly below the solum, or periodically receive high rainfall, or both.

    Somewhat poorly drained: (NOT mapped in Massachusetts) Water is removed slowly enough that the soil is wet for significant periods during the growing season. Wetness markedly restricts the growth of mesophytic crops unless artificial drainage is provided. Somewhat poorly drained soils commonly have a slowly pervious layer, a high water table, additional water from seepage, nearly continuous rainfall, or a combination of these.

    Poorly drained: Water is removed so slowly that the soil is saturated periodically during the growing season or remains wet for long periods. Free water is commonly at or near the surface for long enough during the growing season that most mesophytic crops cannot be grown unless the soil is artificially drained. The soil is not continuously saturated in layers directly below plow depth. Poor drainage results from a high water table, a slowly pervious layer within the profile, seepage, nearly continuous rainfall, or a combination of these.

    Very poorly drained: Water is removed from the soil so slowly that free water remains at or on the surface during most of the growing season. Unless the soil is artificially drained, most mesophytic crops cannot be grown. Very poorly drained soils are commonly level or depressed and are frequently ponded. Yet, where rainfall is high and nearly continuous, they can have moderate or high slope gradients.

  • Drainage, surface. Runoff, or surface flow of water, from an area.

    Drumlin. A low, smooth, elongated oval hill, mound, or ridge of compact glacial till. The longer axis is parallel to the path of the glacier and commonly has a blunt nose pointing in the direction from which the ice approached.

    Eluviation. The movement of material in true solution or colloidal suspension from one place to another within the soil. Soil horizons that have lost material through eluviation are eluvial; those that have received material are illuvial.

    Eolian soil material. Earthy parent material accumulated through wind action; commonly refers to sandy material in dunes or to loess in blankets on the surface.

    Erosion. The wearing away of the land surface by water, wind, ice, or other geologic agents and by such processes as gravitational creep.

    Erosion (geologic). Erosion caused by geologic processes acting over long geologic periods and resulting in the wearing away of mountains and the building up of such landscape features as flood plains and coastal plains. Synonym: natural erosion.

    Erosion (accelerated). Erosion much more rapid than geologic erosion, mainly as a result of the activities of man or other animals or of a catastrophe in nature, for example, fire, that exposes the surface.

    Erosion pavement. A layer of gravel or stones that remains on the surface after fine particles are removed by sheet or rill erosion.

    Esker (geology). A narrow, winding ridge of stratified gravelly and sandy drift deposited by a stream flowing in a tunnel beneath a glacier.

    Fallow. Cropland left idle in order to restore productivity through accumulation of moisture. Summer fallow is common in regions of limited rainfall where cereal grains are grown. The soil is tilled for at least one growing season for weed control and decomposition of plant residue.

    Fen - Waterlogged, spongy ground containing alkaline decaying vegetation, characterized by reeds, that develops into peat. It sometimes occurs in sinkholes of karst regions. Compare - bog, marsh, swamp.

    Fast intake (in tables). The rapid movement of water into the soil.

    Fertility, soil. The quality that enables a soil to provide plant nutrients, in adequate amounts and in proper balance, for the growth of specified plants when light, moisture, temperature, tilth, and other growth factors are favorable.

    Fibric soil material (peat). The least decomposed of all organic soil material. Peat contains a large amount of well preserved fiber that is readily identifiable according to botanical origin. Peat has the lowest bulk density and the highest water content at saturation of all organic soil material.

    Field moisture capacity. The moisture content of a soil, expressed as a percentage of the ovendry weight, after the gravitational, or free, water has drained away; the field moisture content 2 or 3 days after a soaking rain; also called normal field capacity, normal moisture capacity, or capillary capacity.

    Fine textured soil. Sandy clay, silty clay, and clay.

    First bottom. The normal flood plain of a stream, subject to frequent or occasional flooding.

    Flagstone. A thin fragment of sandstone, limestone, slate, shale, or (rarely) schist, 6 to 15 inches (15 to 38 centimeters) long.

    Flood plain. A nearly level alluvial plain that borders a stream and is subject to flooding unless protected artificially.

    Foot slope. The inclined surface at the base of a hill.

    Forb. Any herbaceous plant not a grass or a sedge.

    Fragipan. A loamy, brittle subsurface horizon low in porosity and content of organic matter and low or moderate in clay but high in silt or very fine sand. A fragipan appears cemented and restricts roots. When dry, it is hard or very hard and has a higher bulk density than the horizon or horizons above. When moist, it tends to rupture suddenly under pressure rather than to deform slowly.

    Frost action (in tables). Freezing and thawing of soil moisture. Frost action can damage roads, buildings and other structures, and plant roots.

    Genesis, soil. The mode of origin of the soil. Refers especially to the processes or soil-forming factors responsible for the formation of the solum, or true soil, from the unconsolidated parent material.

    Gilgai. Commonly a succession of microbasins and microknolls in nearly level areas or of microvalleys and microridges parallel with the slope. Typically, the microrelief of Vertisols; clayey soils having a high coefficient of expansion and contraction with changes in moisture content.

    Glacial drift (geology). Pulverized and other rock material transported by glacial ice and then deposited. Also, the sorted and unsorted material deposited by streams flowing from glaciers.

    Glacial outwash (geology). Gravel, sand, and silt, commonly stratified, deposited by glacial meltwater.

    Glacial till (geology). Unsorted, nonstratified glacial deposits consisting of clay, silt, sand, and boulders transported and deposited by glacial ice.

    Glacial fluvial deposits (geology). Material moved by glaciers and subsequently sorted and deposited by streams flowing from the melting ice. The deposits are stratified and occur as kames, eskers, deltas, and outwash plains.

    Glacial lacustrine deposits. Material ranging from fine clay to sand derived from glaciers and deposited in glacial lakes mainly by glacial meltwater. Many deposits are interbedded or laminated.

    Gleyed soil. Soil that formed under poor drainage, resulting in the reduction of iron and other elements in the profile and in gray colors and mottles.

    Graded stripcropping. Growing crops in strips that grade toward a protected waterway.

    Grassed waterway. A natural or constructed waterway, typically broad and shallow, seeded to grass as protection against erosion. Conducts surface water away from cropland.

    Gravel. Rounded or angular fragments of rock up to 3 inches (2 millimeters to 7.6 centimeters) in diameter. An individual piece is a pebble.

    Gravelly soil material. Material that is 15 to 50 percent, by volume, rounded or angular rock fragments, not prominently flattened, up to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter.

    Ground water (geology). Water filling all the unblocked pores of underlying material below the water table.

    Growing Season Definition: The 1987 USACOE Wetlands Delineation Manual ( - glossary, Appendix A defines growing season as the portion of the year when soil temperature (measured at 20 inches below the surface) is above biological zero (5C or 41F). This period "can be approximated by the number of frost-free days." Estimated starting and ending dates for growing season are based on 28F air temperature thresholds at a frequency of 5 years in 10.

    Gully. A miniature valley with steep sides cut by running water and through which water ordinarily runs only after rainfall. The distinction between a gully and a rill is one of depth. A gully generally is an obstacle to farm machinery and is too deep to be obliterated by ordinary tillage; a rill is of lesser depth and can be smoothed over by ordinary tillage.

    Hardpan. A hardened or cemented soil horizon, or layer. The soil material is sandy, loamy, or clayey and is cemented by iron oxide, silica, calcium carbonate, or other substance.

    Hemic soil material (mucky peat). Organic soil material intermediate in degree of decomposition between the less decomposed fibric and the more decomposed sapric material.

    Horizon, soil. A layer of soil, approximately parallel to the surface, having distinct characteristics produced by soil-forming processes. In the identification of soil horizons, an uppercase letter represents the major horizons. Numbers or lowercase letters that follow represent subdivisions of the major horizons. The major horizons are as follows:

  • O horizon. An organic layer of fresh and decaying plant residue.

    A horizon. The mineral horizon at or near the surface in which an accumulation of humified organic matter is mixed with the mineral material. Also, any plowed or disturbed surface layer.

    E horizon. The mineral horizon in which the main feature is loss of silicate clay, iron, aluminum, or some combination of these.

    B horizon. The mineral horizon below an O, A, or E horizon. The B horizon is in part a layer of transition from the overlying horizon to the underlying C horizon. The B horizon also has distinctive characteristics, such as (1) accumulation of clay, sesquioxides, humus, or a combination of these; (2) granular, prismatic, or blocky structure; (3) redder or browner colors than those in the A horizon; or (4) a combination of these.

    C horizon. The mineral horizon or layer, excluding indurated bedrock, that is little affected by soil-forming processes and does not have the properties typical of the overlying horizon. The material of a C horizon may be either like or unlike that in which the solum formed. If the material is known to differ from that in the solum, an Arabic numeral, commonly a 2, precedes the letter C.

    R layer. Hard, consolidated bedrock beneath the soil. The bedrock commonly underlies a C horizon but can be directly below an A or a B horizon.

  • Humus. The well decomposed, more or less stable part of the organic matter in mineral soils.

    Hydrologic soil groups. Refers to soils grouped according to their runoff-producing characteristics. The chief consideration is the inherent capacity of soil bare of vegetation to permit infiltration. The slope and the kind of plant cover are not considered but are separate factors in predicting runoff. Soils are assigned to four groups. In group A are soils having a high infiltration rate when thoroughly wet and having a low runoff potential. They are mainly deep, well drained, an-d sandy or gravelly. In group D, at the other extreme, are soils having a very slow infiltration rate and thus a high runoff potential. They have a claypan or clay layer at or near the surface, have a permanent high water table, or are shallow over nearly impervious bedrock or other material. A soil is assigned to two hydrologic groups if part of the acreage is artificially drained and part is undrained.

    Illuviation. The movement of soil material from one horizon to another in the soil profile. Generally, material is removed from an upper horizon and deposited in a lower horizon.

    Impervious soil. A soil through which water, air, or roots penetrate slowly or not at all. No soil is absolutely impervious to air and water all the time.

    Increasers. Species in the climax vegetation that increase in amount as the more desirable plants are reduced by close grazing. Increasers commonly are the shorter plants and the less palatable to livestock.

    Infiltration. The downward entry of water into the immediate surface of soil or other material, as contrasted with percolation, which is movement of water through soil layers or material.

    Infiltration capacity. The maximum rate at which water can infiltrate into a soil under a given set of conditions.

    Infiltration rate. The rate at which water penetrates the surface of the soil at any given instant, usually expressed in inches per hour. The rate can be limited by the infiltration capacity of the soil or the rate at which water is applied at the surface.

    Intake rate. The average rate of water entering the soil under irrigation. Most soils have a fast initial rate; the rate decreases with application time. Therefore, intake rate for design purposes is not a constant but is a variable depending on the net irrigation application. The rate of water intake in inches per hour is expressed as follows:

    Less than 0.2 very low
    0.2 to 0.4 Low
    0.4 to 0.75 Moderately low
    0.75 to 1.25 Moderate
    1.25 to 1.75 Moderately high
    1.75 to 2.5 High
    More than 2.5 very high


    Irrigation. Application of water to soils to assist in production of crops. Methods of irrigation are;

  • Border. Water is applied at the upper end of a strip in which the lateral flow of water is controlled by small earth ridges called border dikes, or borders.
  • Basin. Water is applied rapidly to nearly level plains surrounded by levees or dikes.
  • Controlled flooding. Water is released at intervals from closely spaced field ditches and distributed uniformly over the field.
  • Corrugation. Water is applied to small, closely spaced furrows or ditches in fields of close-growing crops or in orchards so that it flows in only one direction.
  • Drip (or trickle). Water is applied slowly and under low pressure to the surface of the soil or into the soil through such applicators as emitters, porous tubing, or perforated pipe.
  • Furrow. Water is applied in small ditches made by cultivation implements. Furrows are used for tree and row crops.
  • Sprinkler. Water is sprayed over the soil surface through pipes or nozzles from a pressure system.
  • Subirrigation. Water is applied in open ditches or tile lines until the water table is raised enough to wet the soil.
  • Wild flooding. Water, released at high points, is allowed to flow onto an area without controlled distribution.
  • Kame (geology). An irregular, short ridge or hill of stratified glacial drift.

    Karst (topography). The relief of an area underlain by limestone that dissolves in differing degrees, thus forming numerous depressions or small basins.

    Lacustrine deposit (geology). Material deposited in lake water and exposed when the water level is lowered or the elevation of the land is raised.

    Landslide. The rapid downhill movement of a mass of soil and loose rock, generally when wet or saturated. The speed and distance of movement, as well as the amount of soil and rock material, vary greatly.

    Large stones (in tables). Rock fragments 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) or more across. Large stones adversely affect the specified use of the soil.

    Leaching. The removal of soluble material from soil or other material by percolating water.

    Liquid limit. The moisture content at which the soil passes from a plastic to a liquid state.

    Loess. Fine grained material, dominantly of silt-sized particles, deposited by wind.

    Lowmoor bog - A bog that is at or only slightly above the water table, on which it depends for accumulation and preservation of peat (chiefly the remains of sedges, reeds, shrubs, and various mosses). Compare - highmoor bog, raised bog.

    Low strength. The soil is not strong enough to support loads.

    Medium textured soil. Very fine sandy loam, loam, silt loam, or silt.

    Metamorphic rock. Rock of any origin altered in mineralogical composition, chemical composition, or structure by heat, pressure, and movement. Nearly all such rocks are crystalline.

    Mineral soil. Soil that is mainly mineral material and low in organic material. Its bulk density is more than that of organic soil.

    Minimum tillage. Only the tillage essential to crop production and prevention of soil damage.

    Miscellaneous area. An area that has little or no natural soil and supports little or no vegetation.

    Moderately coarse textured soil. Coarse sandy loam, sandy loam, and fine sandy loam.

    Moderately fine textured soil. Clay loam, sandy clay loam, and silty clay loam.

    Moraine (geology). An accumulation of earth, stones, and other debris deposited by a glacier. Some types are terminal, lateral, medial, and ground.

    Morphology, soil. The physical makeup of the soil, including the texture, structure, porosity, consistence, color, and other physical, mineral, and biological properties of the various horizons, and the thickness and arrangement of those horizons in the soil profile.

    Moss peat [Soil Taxonomy] - An accumulation of organic material that is predominantly the remains of mosses (e.g. sphagnum moss). Compare - Herbaceous peat, sedimentary peat, woody peat, peat, muck, and mucky peat.

    Mottling, soil. Irregular spots of different colors that vary in number and size. Mottling generally indicates poor aeration and impeded drainage.

    Muck - Unconsolidated soil material consisting primarily of highly decomposed organic material in which the original plant parts are not recognizable (i.e. "sapric" in Soil Taxonomy). It generally contains more mineral matter and is usually darker in color, than peat. Compare - peat, mucky peat, herbaceous peat.

    Mucky peat - Unconsolidated soil material consisting primarily of organic matter that is in an intermediate stage of decomposition such that a significant part of the original material can be recognized and a significant part of the material can not be recognized (i.e. "hemic" in Soil Taxonomy). Compare - peat, muck, herbaceous peat.

    Munsell notation. A designation of color by degrees of three simple variables; hue, value, and chroma. For example, a notation of 10YR 6/4 has a hue of 10YR (yellow-red), value of 6, and chroma of 4.

    Neutral soil. A soil having a pH value between 6.6 and 7.3. (See Reaction, soil.)

    Nutrient, plant. Any element taken in by a plant essential to its growth. Plant nutrients are mainly nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, manganese, copper, boron, and zinc obtained from the soil and carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen obtained from the air and water.

    Organic matter. Plant and animal residue in the soil in various stages of decomposition.

    Organic materials - [soil survey] Unconsolidated sediments or deposits in which carbon is an essential, substantial component. Several types of organic materials (deposits) can be identified based on the composition of the dominant fibers (grassy organic materials, herbaceous organic materials, mossy organic materials, woody organic materials). Compare - herbaceous peat, moss peat, sedimentary peat, woody peat.

    Outwash, glacial. Stratified sand and gravel produced by glaciers and carried, sorted, and deposited by glacial meltwater.

    Outwash plain. A landform of mainly sandy or coarse textured material of glaciofluvial origin. An outwash plain is commonly smooth; where pitted, it is generally low in relief.

    Pan. A compact, dense layer in a soil that impedes the movement of water and the growth of roots. For example, hardpan, fragipan, claypan, plowpan, and traffic pan.

    Parent material. The unconsolidated organic and mineral material in which soil forms.

    Peat - Unconsolidated soil material consisting largely of undecomposed, or slightly decomposed, organic matter (i.e. "fibric" in Soil Taxonomy) accumulated under conditions of excessive moisture. Compare - muck, mucky peat, herbaceous peat.

    Ped. An individual natural soil aggregate, such as a granule, a prism, or a block.

    Pedon. The smallest volume that can be called ""a soil.'' A pedon is three dimensional and large enough to permit study of all horizons. Its area ranges from about 10 to 100 square feet (1 square meter to 10 square meters), depending on the variability of the soil.

    Percolation. The downward movement of water through the soil.

    Percs slowly (in tables). The slow movement of water through the soil, adversely affecting the specified use.

    Permafrost. Layers of soil, or even bedrock, occurring in arctic or subarctic regions, in which a temperature below freezing has existed continuously for a long time.

    Permeability. The quality of the soil that enables water to move downward through the profile. Permeability is measured as the number of inches per hour that water moves downward through the saturated soil. Terms describing permeability are:

    Very slow less than 0.06 inch/hr
    Slow 0.06 to 0.2 inch/hr
    Moderately slow 0.2 to 0.6 inch/hr
    Moderate 0.6 inch to 2.0 inches/hr
    Moderately rapid 2.0 to 6.0 inches/hr
    Rapid 6.0 to 20 inches/hr
    Very rapid more than 20 inches/hr

    Phase, soil. A subdivision of a soil series based on features that affect its use and management. For example, slope, stoniness, and thickness.

    pH value. A numerical designation of acidity and alkalinity in soil. (See Reaction, soil.)

    Piping (in tables). Formation of subsurface tunnels or pipelike cavities by water moving through the soil.

    Pitting (in tables). Pits caused by melting ground ice. They form on the soil after plant cover is removed.

    Plasticity index. The numerical difference between the liquid limit and the plastic limit; the range of moisture content within which the soil remains plastic.

    Plastic limit. The moisture content at which a soil changes from semisolid to plastic.

    Plinthite. The sesquioxide-rich, humus-poor, highly weathered mixture of clay with quartz and other diluents. It commonly appears as red mottles, usually in platy, polygonal, or reticulate patterns. Plinthite changes irreversibly to an ironstone hardpan or to irregular aggregates on repeated wetting and drying, especially if it is exposed to heat from the sun. In a moist soil, plinthite can be cut with a spade. It is a form of laterite.

    Plowpan. A compacted layer formed in the soil directly below the plowed layer.

    Ponding. Standing water on soils in closed depressions. Unless the soils are artificially drained, the water can be removed only by percolation or evapotranspiration.

    Poor filter (in tables). Because of rapid permeability, the soil may not adequately filter effluent from a waste disposal system.

    Poorly graded. Refers to a coarse grained soil or soil material consisting mainly of particles of nearly the same size. Because there is little difference in size of the particles, density can be increased only slightly by compaction.

    Poor outlets (in tables). Refers to areas where surface or subsurface drainage outlets are difficult or expensive to install.

    Productivity, soil. The capability of a soil for producing a specified plant or sequence of plants under specific management.

    Profile, soil. A vertical section of the soil extending through all its horizons and into the parent material.

    Reaction, soil. A measure of acidity or alkalinity of a soil, expressed in pH values. A soil that tests to pH 7.0 is described as precisely neutral in reaction because it is neither acid nor alkaline. The degree of acidity or alkalinity is expressed as pH:

    Extremely acid below 4.5
    Very strongly acid 4.5 to 5.0
    Strongly acid 5.1 to 5.5
    Medium acid 5.6 to 6.0
    Slightly acid 6.1 to 6.5
    Neutral 6.6 to 7.3
    Mildly alkaline 7.4 to 7.8
    Moderately alkaline 7.9 to 8.4
    Strongly alkaline 8.5 to 9.0
    Very strongly alkaline 9.1 and higher


    Regolith. The unconsolidated mantle of weathered rock and soil material on the earth's surface; the loose earth material above the solid rock.

    Relief. The elevations or inequalities of a land surface, considered collectively.

    Residuum (residual soil material). Unconsolidated, weathered or partly weathered mineral material that accumulated as consolidated rock disintegrated in place.

    Rill. A steep-sided channel resulting from accelerated erosion. A rill is generally a few inches deep and not wide enough to be an obstacle to farm machinery.

    Rippable. Bedrock or hardpan can be excavated using a single-tooth ripping attachment mounted on a tractor with a 200-300 draw bar horsepower rating.

    Rock fragments. Rock or mineral fragments having a diameter of 2 millimeters or more; for example, pebbles, cobbles, stones, and boulders.

    Rooting depth (in tables). Shallow root zone. The soil is shallow over a layer that greatly restricts roots.

    Root zone. The part of the soil that can be penetrated by plant roots.

    Runoff. The precipitation discharged into stream channels from an area. The water that flows off the surface of the land without sinking into the soil is called surface runoff. Water that enters the soil before reaching surface streams is called ground-water runoff or seepage flow from ground water.

    Saline soil. A soil containing soluble salts in an amount that impairs growth of plants. A saline soil does not contain excess exchangeable sodium.

    Salty water (in tables.) Water that is too salty for consumption by livestock.

    Sand. As a soil separate, individual rock or mineral fragments from 0.05 millimeter to 2.0 millimeters in diameter. Most sand grains consist of quartz. As a soil textural class, a soil that is 85 percent or more sand and not more than 10 percent clay.

    Sandstone. Sedimentary rock containing dominantly sand-size particles.

    Sapric soil material (muck). The most highly decomposed of all organic soil material. Muck has the least amount of plant fiber, the highest bulk density, and the lowest water content at saturation of all organic soil material.

    Saprolite (soil science). Unconsolidated residual material underlying the soil and grading to hard bedrock below.

    Sedimentary rock. Rock made up of particles deposited from suspension in water. The chief kinds of sedimentary rock are conglomerate, formed from gravel; sandstone, formed from sand; shale, formed from clay; and limestone, formed from soft masses of calcium carbonate. There are many intermediate types. Some wind-deposited sand is consolidated into sandstone.

    Seepage (in tables). The movement of water through the soil. Seepage adversely affects the specified use.

    Sequum. A sequence consisting of an illuvial horizon and the overlying eluvial horizon. (See Eluviation.)

    Series, soil. A group of soils that have profiles that are almost alike, except for differences in texture of the surface layer or of the underlying material. All the soils of a series have horizons that are similar in composition, thickness, and arrangement.

    Shale. Sedimentary rock formed by the hardening of a clay deposit.

    Sheet erosion. The removal of a fairly uniform layer of soil material from the land surface by the action of rainfall and surface runoff.

    Shrink-swell. The shrinking of soil when dry and the swelling when wet. Shrinking and swelling can damage roads, dams, building foundations, and other structures. It can also damage plant roots.

    Silica. A combination of silicon and oxygen. The mineral form is called quartz.

    Silica-sesquioxide ratio. The ratio of the number of molecules of silica to the number of molecules of alumina and iron oxide. The more highly weathered soils or their clay fractions in warm-temperate, humid regions, and especially those in the tropics, generally have a low ratio.

    Silt. As a soil separate, individual mineral particles that range in diameter from the upper limit of clay (0.002 millimeter) to the lower limit of very fine sand (0.05 millimeter). As a soil textural class, soil that is 80 percent or more silt and less than 12 percent clay.

    Siltstone. Sedimentary rock made up of dominantly silt-sized particles.

    Similar soils. Soils that share limits of diagnostic criteria, behave and perform in a similar manner, and have similar conservation needs or management requirements for the major land uses in the survey area.

    Sinkhole. A depression in the landscape where limestone has been dissolved.

    Site index. A designation of the quality of a forest site based on the height of the dominant stand at an arbitrarily chosen age. For example, if the average height attained by dominant and codominant trees in a fully stocked stand at the age of 50 years is 75 feet, the site index is 75 feet.

    Slickensides. Polished and grooved surfaces produced by one mass sliding past another. In soils, slickensides may occur at the bases of slip surfaces on the steeper slopes; on faces of blocks, prisms, and columns; and in swelling clayey soils, where there is marked change in moisture content.

    Slick spot. A small area of soil having a puddled, crusted, or smooth surface and an excess of exchangeable sodium. The soil is generally silty or clayey, is slippery when wet, and is low in productivity.

    Slippage (in tables). Soil mass susceptible to movement downslope when loaded, excavated, or wet.

    Slope. The inclination of the land surface from the horizontal. Percentage of slope is the vertical distance divided by horizontal distance, then multiplied by 100. Thus, a slope of 20 percent is a drop of 20 feet in 100 feet of horizontal distance.

    Slope (in tables). Slope is great enough that special practices are required to ensure satisfactory performance of the soil for a specific use.

    Sloughed till. Water-saturated till that has flowed slowly downhill from its original place of deposit by glacial ice. It may rest on other till, on glacial outwash, or on a glaciolacustrine deposit.

    Slow intake (in tables). The slow movement of water into the soil.

    Slow refill (in tables). The slow filling of ponds, resulting from restricted permeability in the soil.

    Small stones (in tables). Rock fragments less than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter. Small stones adversely affect the specified use of the soil.

    Soil. A natural, three-dimensional body at the earth's surface. It is capable of supporting plants and has properties resulting from the integrated effect of climate and living matter acting on earthy parent material, as conditioned by relief over periods of time.

    Soil separates. Mineral particles less than 2 millimeters in equivalent diameter and ranging between specified size limits. The names and sizes of separates recognized in the United States are as follows:

    Separate Millimeters
    Very coarse sand 2.0 to 1.0
    Coarse sand 1.0 to 0.5
    Medium sand 0.5 to 0.25
    Fine sand 0.25 to 0.10
    Very fine sand 0.10 to 0.05
    Silt 0.05 to 0.002
    Clay less than 0.002

    Solum. The upper part of a soil profile, above the C horizon, in which the processes of soil formation are active. The solum in soil consists of the A, E, and B horizons. Generally, the characteristics of the material in these horizons are unlike those of the underlying material. The living roots and plant and animal activities are largely confined to the solum.

    Stone line. A concentration of coarse fragments in a soil. Generally, it is indicative of an old weathered surface. In a cross section, the line may be one fragment or more thick. It generally overlies material that weathered in place and is overlain by recent sediment of variable thickness.

    Stones. Rock fragments 10 to 24 inches (25 to 60 centimeters) in diameter.

    Stony. Refers to a soil containing stones in numbers that interfere with or prevent tillage.

    Stripcropping. Growing crops in a systematic arrangement of strips or bands which provide vegetative barriers to wind and water erosion.

    Structure, soil. The arrangement of primary soil particles into compound particles or aggregates. The principal forms of soil structure are;

  • platy (laminated), prismatic (vertical axis of aggregates longer than horizontal), columnar (prisms with rounded tops), blocky (angular or subangular), and granular.

    Structureless soils are either single grained (each grain by itself, as in dune sand) or massive (the particles adhering without any re-gular cleavage, as in many hardpans).

  • Subsoil. Technically, the B horizon; roughly, the part of the solum below plow depth.

    Subsoiling. Breaking up a compact subsoil by pulling a special chisel through the soil.

    Substratum. The part of the soil below the solum.

    Subsurface layer. Any surface soil horizon (A, E, AB, or EB) below the surface layer.

    Summer fallow. The tillage of uncropped land during the summer to control weeds and allow storage of moisture in the soil for the growth of a later crop. A practice common in semiarid regions, where annual precipitation is not enough to produce a crop every year. Summer fallow is frequently practiced before planting winter grain.

    Surface layer. The soil ordinarily moved in tillage, or its equivalent in uncultivated soil, ranging in depth from about 4 to 10 inches (10 to 25 centimeters). Frequently designated as the ""plow layer,'' or the ""Ap horizon.''

    Surface soil. The A, E, AB, and EB horizons. It includes all subdivisions of these horizons.

    Swamp - An area of low, saturated ground, intermittently or permanently covered with water, and predominantly vegetated by shrubs and trees, with or without the accumulation of peat. Compare - marsh, bog, fen.

    Taxadjuncts. Soils that cannot be classified in a series recognized in the classification system. Such soils are named for a series they strongly resemble and are designated as taxadjuncts to that series because they differ in ways too small to be of consequence in interpreting their use and behavior.

    tlhIngan tera' tej. A Klingon soil scientist.

    Terminal moraine. A belt of thick glacial drift that generally marks the termination of important glacial advances.

    Terrace. An embankment, or ridge, constructed across sloping soils on the contour or at a slight angle to the contour. The terrace intercepts surface runoff so that water soaks into the soil or flows slowly to a prepared outlet.

    Terrace (geologic). An old alluvial plain, ordinarily flat or undulating, bordering a river, a lake, or the sea.

    Texture, soil. The relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay particles in a mass of soil. The basic textural classes, in order of increasing proportion of fine particles, are; sand, loamy sand, sandy loam, loam, silt loam, silt, sandy clay loam, clay loam, silty clay loam, sandy clay, silty clay, and clay. The sand, loamy sand, and sandy loam classes may be further divided by specifying ""coarse,'' ""fine,'' or ""very fine.''

    Thin layer (in tables). Otherwise suitable soil material too thin for the specified use.

    Till plain. An extensive flat to undulating area underlain by glacial till.

    Tilth, soil. The physical condition of the soil as related to tillage, seedbed preparation, seedling mergence, and root penetration.

    Toe slope. The outermost inclined surface at the base of a hill; part of a foot slope.

    Topsoil. The upper part of the soil, which is the most favorable material for plant growth. It is ordinarily rich in organic matter and is used to topdress roadbanks, lawns, and land affected by mining.

    Toxicity (in tables). Excessive amount of toxic substances, such as sodium or sulfur, that severely hinder establishment of vegetation or severely restrict plant growth.

    Trace elements. Chemical elements, for example, zinc, cobalt, manganese, copper, and iron, are in soils in extremely small amounts. They are essential to plant growth.

    Tuff. A compacted deposit that is 50 percent or more volcanic ash and dust.

    Unstable fill (in tables). Risk of caving or sloughing on banks of fill material.

    Upland (geology). Land at a higher elevation, in general, than the alluvial plain or stream terrace; land above the lowlands along streams.

    Valley fill. In glaciated regions, material deposited in stream valleys by glacial meltwater. In nonglaciated regions, alluvium deposited by heavily loaded streams.

    Variant, soil. A soil having properties sufficiently different from those of other known soils to justify a new series name, but occurring in such a limited geographic area that creation of a new series is not justified.

    Variegation. Refers to patterns of contrasting colors assumed to be inherited from the parent material rather than to be the result of poor drainage.

    Varve. A sedimentary layer of a lamina or sequence of laminae deposited in a body of still water within a year. Specifically, a thin pair of graded glaciolacustrine layers seasonally deposited, usually by meltwater streams, in a glacial lake or other body of still water in front of a glacier.

    Weathering. All physical and chemical changes produced in rocks or other deposits at or near the earth's surface by atmospheric agents. These changes result in disintegration and decomposition of the material.

    Well graded. Refers to soil material consisting of coarse grained particles that are well distributed over a wide range in size or diameter. Such soil normally can be easily increased in density and bearing properties by compaction. Contrasts with poorly graded soil.

    Wilting point (or permanent wilting point). The moisture content of soil, on an ovendry basis, at which a plant (specifically a sunflower) wilts so much that it does not recover when placed in a humid, dark chamber.