Soil Formation

Soil is formed by the process of weathering. All types of weathering (physical, chemical or biological) result to disintegration of rocks into smaller particles. Air and water enter the space between these particles and chemical changes take place, which lead to the production of chemical substances.

Bacteria and plant life soon appear. When plants and animals die, they decay and produce humus. Bacteria and other decomposers play a vital role in the decomposition of plant and animal substrata. The end product of these mechanical, chemical and biological processes is soil.

Therefore, soil can be defined as unconsolidated mineral (inorganic) and organic material on the immediate surface of the earth‟s crust that serves as the medium for plant growth.


All soils contain mineral matter, organic matter, water, air and living organisms, especially bacteria. If any one of these is substantially reduced in amount or is removed from the soil, then the soil deteriorates.

There are many types of soil and each has specific characteristics related to the climate, the vegetation and the rock of the region in which it forms. The weathering processes of a region also
play an important part in determining soil characteristics. The relationship of these factors is as shown in figure 3.1.

The Factors Influencing Soil Formation

Information about soil formation can lead to better soil classification and more accurate interpretation of soil properties.There are several factors responsible for soil formation.

The factors include climate, living organisms, relief (topography),parent material and temperature. All the factors, except time,depend to a greater or lesser extent upon each other, upon the soil itself or upon some other factor. None of the factors can be considered more important than any other, but locally one factor may exert a particular strong influence. These factors are explained in details below.

1. Parent material

Parent materials are made up of mineral material or organic matter or a mixture of both. The organic matter is usually composed predominantly of unconsolidated, dead and decaying plant remains. The mineral material, which is the most widespread type of parent material, contains a large number of different rock– to form Climate which decays to form results in weathering of influences the type of climate rocks vegetation humus Climate Soil mineral soil Climate forming minerals and can be in either consolidated or unconsolidated state.


Some rocks are more easily weathered than others. Acidic rocks are more resistant to weathering than basic rocks. The parent rock affects soil texture and water permeability.

Parent  rock with fine particles is more resistant to chemical weathering than mechanical weathering. Very compact parent rocks like sandstone are very much resistant to weathering. Porous rocks weather easily by chemical processes. This is because they have large surface areas for weathering agents to act upon.

2. Climate

Climate is the principal factor governing the rate and type of soil formation as well as being the main agent determining the distribution of
vegetation. The dead vegetations decay to form humus as one of the components of the soil.


To understand well the influence of climate on soil formation let us have a look at its components and how each of these components affects soil formation.

3. Temperature

The main effect of temperature on soil is to influence the rate of reactions; for every 10°C rise in temperature, the speed of a chemical
reaction increases by a factor of 2 or 3 (twice or thrice). Temperature, therefore, influences the speed of disintegration and decomposition of the parent materials and its consolidation to form the soil.

4. Rainfall (water)

The water in soils includes all forms of water that enter the soil system and is derived mainly from precipitation as rain. The water entering
soils contains appreciable amounts of dissolved carbodioxide, forming a weak carbonic acid. This dilute, weak acid solution is more reactive
than pure water. It thus reacts with unconsolidated minerals and organic matter, breaking them down into mineral (clay, sand) and organic debris (humus) respectively.

5. Organisms

The organisms influencing the development of soils range from microscopic bacteria to large mammals including man. In fact, nearly every organism which lives on the surface of the earth or in the soil affects the development of soils in one way or another. More important soil
organisms of interest to soil formation are as follows:


Higher plants.
Higher plants (particularly grasses) extend their roots into the soil and act as binders. So they prevent soil erosion. The roots also assist in
binding together small groups of particles hence developing a crumby or granular structure. Large roots are agents of physical weathering as they open and widen cracks in rocks and stones. When plants die they contribute organic matter to the soil, which acts as a binder of the
soil particles. Higher plants intercept rain and they shelter the soil from the impact of raindrops. They also shade the soil and hence reduce


Mammals such as moles, ground squirrels and mice burrow deeply into the soil and cause considerable mixing up of the soil, often by bringing up subsoil to the surface, and creating burrows through which the top soil can fall and accumulate within the subsoil.


Micro ogarnisms
These include bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, algae and protozoa. These organisms act as decomposers of organic and even mineral matter.



These include earthworms, nematodes, millipedes, centipedes and many insects, particularly termites and ants. Activities of mesofauna include:
  • ingesting organic mineral materials e.g. earthworms and millipedes;
  • transportation of materials e.g. earthworms, millipedes, termites, beetles, etc; and
  • improvement of soil structure and aeration.
Man Activities  are too many and too diverse. Man‟s roles include:
  • Cultivation of soils for production of food and tree crops, which in many cases has negative effects causing impoverishment of the soil and erosion.
  • Indiscrimate grazing, casual burning, cutting of trees, manure and fertilizer use, all of which alter the soil characteristics.

6. Relief (Topography)

This refers to the outline of the earth‟s surface. All land surfaces are constantly changing through weathering and erosion. It may take millions of years, in the case of Himalayas and the Andes, to be worn down to flat undulating surfaces. The soils on steep mountain slopes are shallow and often stony and contain many primary minerals. In areas where the difference in elevation between the highest and the lowest point is great, then climatic changes are introduced. These differences in elevation, slope, slope direction, moisture and soil characteristics lead to the formation of a number of interesting soil sequences.


7. Time
Soil formation is a very slow process requiring thousands and even millions of years. Hence, it is impossible to make definite statements about the various stages in the development of soils.This is because it takes a considerable period of time for a particular soil type to be formed and categorized.





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