Review your understanding of soil formation, soil horizons, and erosion in this free article aligned to AP standards.
- Soil is the loose surface material that covers most land. Soil is a mixture of minerals, organic matter, living organisms, gases, and water.
- Soil is produced from rocks, or parent material, as a result of weathering. Weathering describes the breakdown of rocks by physical, chemical, or biological processes. Particles that break away during weathering are transported and deposited as layers of soil on land, or layers of sediment underwater.
- Soils have layers called horizons. Soil horizons are distinguished by various properties, including color, texture, mineral content, and organic content.
- The vertical arrangement of horizons is known as a soil profile. Soil profiles can help distinguish soil types, and can also be used to predict soil fertility. The generalized soil profile below includes four major soil horizons: O, A, B, and C:
- The O horizon, or organic horizon, is made up mostly of organic matter such as leaf litter and decomposed plant material. This layer can be thin, thick, or not present at all, depending on how a soil forms.
- The A horizon, or topsoil, is the upper layer of soil in which plants have most of their roots. It has a high concentration of organic matter and microorganisms. So, this layer and the O horizon are often the most nutrient-rich and productive layers in a soil profile.
- The B horizon, or subsoil, is made up mostly of minerals from weathered parent material. It is usually lighter in color, ranging from yellow to reddish brown. The B horizon is less fertile than the A and O horizons, and is not capable of producing abundant plant growth.
- The C horizon is a layer of poorly weathered or unweathered rock. It contains a high concentration of parent material and is generally infertile.
- Soil erosion is the removal of the fertile top layers of soil. Soils can be eroded naturally by wind and flowing water. Erosion can be slowed by plants, whose roots help anchor the top layers of soil.
- Soils can also be eroded as a result of human activities. Deforestation, agriculture, and urbanization have greatly increased the rate of soil erosion in many places around the globe.
- Intact soils filter and clean the water that moves through them. In this way, soils provide humans with an ecosystem service—they help provide clean water for drinking and other purposes. So, protecting soils from erosion can benefit humans and society.
Want to join the conversation?
- why are there so many layers of soil(5 votes)
- Would a desert be an example of an area with no O horizon?(3 votes)
- The last bullet point says intacts soild tield many benifits. What are the effects of imbalanced soil horizons? What happens when these layers erode and what impact does this have on us and our planet?(2 votes)
- The topmost layer of soil, the organic horizon, usually contains the most nutrients, so preventing rain from washing it off constantly will be beneficial to plants.(2 votes)
- do the horizons move up or down over time(2 votes)
- It's like a conveyor belt, with the deeper layers eventually lithifying, becoming rocks, and newer layers being deposited from above. The cycle goes on through factors like the carbon cycle or erosion.(2 votes)
- what is parenting material(1 vote)
- does anyone know how to compare between these horizons with soil water structure (zone of aeration, zone of saturation, water table etc.)? Is any the soil water structure located in a specific horizon?(1 vote)
- what factors contribute to the change of earth(0 votes)
- These have been caused by many natural factors, including changes in the sun, emissions from volcanoes, variations in Earth's orbit and levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). Global climate change has typically occurred very slowly, over thousands or millions of years.(3 votes)