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June 11, 2020


Glenn Borchardt


P.O. Box 5335

Berkeley, CA 94705

510-654-1619 (842-7645)

AGE. Elapsed time in calendar years. Because the cosmic production of C-14 has varied during the Quaternary, radiocarbon years must be corrected by using tree-ring and other data. Abbreviations used for corrected ages are: ka (kilo anno or years in thousands) or Ma (millions of years). Abbreviations used for intervals are: yr (years), kyr (thousands of years). Radiocarbon ages = yr B.P. or ky B.P. Calibrated ages are calculated from process assumptions, relative ages fit in a sequence, and correlated ages refer to a matching unit. (See also yr B.P., HOLOCENE, PLEISTOCENE, QUATERNARY, PEDOCHRONOLOGY).

AGGRADATION. Deposition on the earth's surface in the direction of uniformity of grade.

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 % or more of the total exchangeable bases) that plant growth is restricted.

ALKALINE SOIL. Any soil that has a pH greater than 7.3. (See Reaction, Soil.)

ANGULAR ORPHANS. Angular fragments separated from weathered, well-rounded cobbles in colluvium derived from conglomerate.

ARGILLAN. (See Clay Film.)

ARGILLIC horizon. A horizon containing clay either translocated from above or formed in place through pedogenesis.

ALLUVIATION. The process of building up of sediments by a stream at places where stream velocity is decreased. The coarsest particles settle first and the finest particles settle last—a process often termed “upward fining.”

ANOXIC. (See also GLEYED SOIL). A soil having a low redox potential.

AQUICLUDE. A saturated body of sediment or rock that is incapable of transmitting significant quantities of water under ordinary hydraulic gradients.

AQUITARD. A body of rock or sediment that retards but does not prevent the flow of water to or from an adjacent aquifer. It does not readily yield water to wells or springs but may serve as a storage unit for groundwater.

ATTERBERG LIMITS. The moisture content at which a soil passes from a semi-solid to a plastic state (plastic limit, PL) and from a plastic to a liquid state (liquid limit, LL). The plasticity index (PI) is the numerical difference between the LL and the PL.

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

BISEQUUM. Two soils in vertical sequence, each soil containing an eluvial horizon and its underlying B horizon.

BOUDIN, BOUDINAGE. From a French word for sausage, describes the way that layers of rock break up under extension. Imagine the hand, fingers together, flat on the table, encased in soft clay and being squeezed from above, as being like a layer of rock.  As the spreading clay causes the fingers (sausages) to move apart, the most mobile rock fractions are drawn or squeezed into the developing gaps. Boudinaged clay units often have pointed ends.

BURIED SOIL. A developed soil that was once exposed but is now overlain by a more recently deposited material.

CALCAREOUS SOIL. A soil containing enough calcium carbonate (commonly with magnesium carbonate) to effervesce (fizz) visibly when treated with cold, dilute hydrochloric acid. A soil having measurable amounts of calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate.

CARBONATE MORPHOLOGY STAGES. Descriptive classes of calcite precipitation indicating increasing pedogenesis over time:



Percent Carbonate


Bk horizon with few filaments and coatings



Bk with common filaments and continuous clast coatings



Bk with continuous clast coatings, white masses, few nodules



Bk as above, but matrix is completely whitened, common nodules



K horizon that is 90% white, many nodules



K that is completely plugged



K as above, but upper part cemented and has weak platy structure



K same as above, but laminar layer is strong with incipient brecciation



K brecciation and recementation, as well as pisoliths, are common


 CATENA. A sequence of soils of about the same age, derived from similar parent material and forming under similar climatic conditions, but having different characteristics due to variation in relief and drainage. (See also TOPOSEQUENCE.)

CEC. Cation exchange capacity. The amount of negative charge balanced by positively charged ions (cations) that are exchangeable by other cations in solution (meq/100 g soil = cmol(+)/kg soil).

CLAY. As a soil separate, the mineral soil particles are less than 0.002 mm 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 coating of oriented clay on the surface of a sand grain, pebble, soil aggregate, or ped. Clay films also line pores or root channels and bridge sand grains. Frequency classification is based on the percent of the ped faces and/or pores that contain films: very few--<5%; few--5-25%; common--25-50%; many--50-90%; and continuous--90-100%. Thickness classification is based on visibility of sand grains: thin--very fine sand grains standout; moderately thick--very fine sand grains impart microrelief to film; thick--fine sand grains enveloped by clay and films visible without magnification. Synonyms: clay skin, clay coat, argillan, illuviation cutan.

CLAY LAMELLAE.  Thin, generally wavy subhorizontal bands that appear as multiple micro-Bt horizons at the base of the solum generally in sandy Holocene deposits. Each lamella generally is 1-3 cm in thickness. There may be two to six or more clay lamellae between 5 and 30 cm apart.

COBBLE. Rounded or partially rounded fragments of rock ranging from 7.5 to 25 cm in diameter.

COLLUVIUM. Any loose mass of soil or rock fragments that moves downslope largely by the force of gravity. Usually it is thicker at the base of the slope.

COLLUVIUM-FILLED SWALE. The prefailure topography of the source area of a debris flow.

COMPARATIVE PEDOLOGY. The comparison of soils, particularly through examination of features known to evolve through time.

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.

CONDUCTIVITY. The ability of a soil solution to conduct electricity, generally expressed as the reciprocal of the electrical resistivity. Electrical conductance is the reciprocal of the resistance (1/R = 1/ohm = ohm-1 = mho [reverse of ohm] = siemens = S), while electrical conductivity is the reciprocal of the electrical resistivity (EC = 1/r = 1/ohm-cm = mho/cm = S/cm or mmho/cm = dS/m). EC, expressed as µS/cm, is equivalent to the ppm of salt in solution when multiplied by 0.640. Pure rain water has an EC of 0, standard 0.01 N KCl is 1411.8 µS at 25C, and the growth of salt-sensitive crops is restricted in soils having saturation extracts with an EC greater than 2,000 µS/cm. Measurements in soils are usually performed on 1:1 suspensions containing one part by weight of soil and one part by weight of distilled water.

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 and brittle; little affected by moistening.

CTPOT. Easily remembered acronym for climate, topography, parent material, organisms, and time; the five factors of soil formation.

CUMULIC. A soil horizon that has undergone aggradation coincident with its active development.

CUTAN. (See Clay Film.)

DEBRIS FLOW. Incoherent or broken masses of rock, soil, and other coarse debris that move downslope in a manner similar to a viscous fluid in response to especially heavy rainfall.

DEBRIS SLOPE. A constant slope with debris on it from the free face above.

DEGRADATION. A modification of the earth's surface by erosion.

DURIPAN. A subsurface soil horizon that is cemented by illuvial silica, generally deposited as opal or microcrystalline silica, to the degree that less than 50 percent of the volume of air-dry fragments will slake in water or HCl.

ELUVIATION. The removal of soluble material and solid particles, mostly clay and humus, from a soil horizon by percolating water.

EOLIAN. Deposits laid down by the wind, landforms eroded by the wind, or structures such as ripple marks made by the wind.

FAULT-LINE SCARP. A scarp that has been produced by differential erosion along an old fault.

FAULTSLIDE. A landslide that shows physical evidence of its interaction with a fault. 

FIRST-ORDER DRAINAGE. The most upstream, field-discernible concavity that conducts water and sediments to lower parts of a watershed.

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

FOSSIL FISSURE. A buried rectilinear chamber associated with extension due to ground movement. The chamber must be oriented along the strike of the shear and must have vertical and horizontal dimensions greater than its width. It must show no evidence of faunal activity and its walls may have silt or clay coatings indicative of frequent temporary saturation with ground water. May be mistaken for an animal burrow. Also known as a paleofissure.

FRAGIC. Term for the tendency for a hard or extremely hard ped or clod to rupture suddenly rather than to undergo slow deformation when pressure is applied. Fragic peds slake in water within 10 minutes and display no cementation upon repeated wetting and drying. Fragic clays tend to be kaolinitic.

FRIABILITY. Term for the ease with which soil crumbles. A friable soil is one that crumbles easily.

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 (A and B horizons) from the unconsolidated parent material.

GEOMORPHIC. Pertaining to the form of the surface features of the earth. Specifically, geomorphology is the analysis of landforms and their mode of origin.

GLEYED SOIL. A soil having one or more neutral gray horizons as a result of water logging and lack of oxygen. The term "gleyed" also designates gray horizons and horizons having yellow and gray mottles as a result of intermittent water logging.

GRAVEL. Rounded or angular fragments of rock 2 to 75 mm in diameter. Soil textures with >15% gravel have the prefix "gravelly" and those with >90% gravel have the suffix "gravel."

HIGHSTAND. The highest elevation reached by the ocean during an interglacial period.

HOLOCENE. The most recent epoch of geologic time, extending from 11.7 ka to the present.

HORIZON, SOIL. A layer of soil, approximately parallel to the surface, that has distinct characteristics produced by soil-forming processes. These are the major soil horizons:

O horizon.--The layer of organic matter on the surface of a mineral soil. This layer consists of decaying plant residues.

A horizon.--The mineral horizon at the surface or just below an O horizon. This horizon is the one in which living organisms are most active and therefore is marked by the accumulation of humus. The horizon may have lost one or more of soluble salts, clay, and sesquioxides (iron and aluminum oxides).

E horizon -- This eluvial horizon is light in color, lying beneath the A horizon and above the B horizon. It is made up mostly of sand and silt, having lost most of its clay and iron oxides through reduction, chelation, and translocation.

B horizon.--The mineral horizon below an A horizon. The B horizon is in part a layer of change from the overlying A to the underlying C horizon. The B horizon also has distinctive characteristics caused (1) by accumulation of clay, sesquioxides, humus, or some combination of these; (2) by prismatic or blocky structure; (3) by redder or stronger colors than the A horizon; or (4) by some combination of these.

C horizon.--The relatively unweathered material immediately beneath the solum. Included are sediment, saprolite, organic matter, and bedrock excavatable with a spade. In most soils this material is presumed to be like that from which the overlying horizons were formed. If the material is known to be different from that in the solum, a number precedes the letter C.

R horizon.--Consolidated rock not excavatable with a spade. It may contain a few cracks filled with roots or clay or oxides. The rock usually underlies a C horizon but may be immediately beneath an A or B horizon.

Major horizons may be further distinguished by applying prefix Arabic numbers to designate differences in parent materials as they are encountered (e.g., 2B, 2BC, 3C) or by applying suffix numerals to designate minor changes (e.g., B1, B2).

The following is from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, except for the proposed addition of mn:

Suffix Symbols

Lowercase letters are used as suffixes to designate specific kinds of master horizons and layers. The term “accumulation” is used in many of the definitions of such horizons to indicate that these horizons must contain more of the material in question than is presumed to have been present in the parent material. The suffix symbols and their meanings are as follows:

a Highly decomposed organic material

This symbol is used with O to indicate the most highly decomposed organic materials, which have a fiber content of less than 17 percent (by volume) after rubbing.

b Buried genetic horizon

This symbol is used in mineral soils to indicate identifiable buried horizons with major genetic features that were developed before burial. Genetic horizons may or may not have formed in the overlying material, which may be either like or unlike the assumed parent material of the buried soil. This symbol is not used in organic soils, nor is it used to separate an organic layer from a mineral layer.

Concretions or nodules

This symbol indicates a significant accumulation of concretions or nodules. Cementation is required. The cementing agent commonly is iron, aluminum, manganese, or titanium. It cannot be silica, dolomite, calcite, or more soluble salts.

co Coprogenous earth

This symbol, used only with L, indicates a limnic layer of coprogenous earth (or sedimentary peat).

Physical root restriction

This symbol indicates noncemented, root-restricting layers in natural or human-made sediments or materials. Examples are dense basal till, plowpans, and other mechanically compacted zones.

di Diatomaceous earth

This symbol, used only with L, indicates a limnic layer of diatomaceous earth.

Organic material of intermediate decomposition

This symbol is used with O to indicate organic materials of intermediate decomposition. The fiber content of these materials is 17 to 40 percent (by volume) after rubbing.

Frozen soil or water

This symbol indicates that a horizon or layer contains permanent ice. The symbol is not used for seasonally frozen layers or for dry permafrost.

ff Dry permafrost

This symbol indicates a horizon or layer that is continually colder than 0o C and does not contain enough ice to be cemented by ice. This suffix is not used for horizons or layers that have a temperature warmer than 0o C at some time of the year.

Strong gleying

This symbol indicates either that iron has been reduced and removed during soil formation or that saturation with stagnant water has preserved it in a reduced state. Most of the affected layers have chroma of 2 or less, and many have redox concentrations. The low chroma can represent either the color of reduced iron or the color of uncoated sand and silt particles from which iron has been removed. The symbol g is not used for materials of low chroma that have no history of wetness, such as some slates or E horizons. If g is used with B, pedogenic change in addition to gleying is implied. If no other pedogenic change besides gleying has taken place, the horizon is designated Cg.

Illuvial accumulation of organic matter

This symbol is used with B to indicate the accumulation of illuvial, amorphous, dispersible complexes of organic matter and sesquioxides if the sesquioxide component is dominated by aluminum but is present only in very small quantities. The organo-sesquioxide material coats sand and silt particles. In some horizons these coatings have coalesced, filled pores, and cemented the horizon. The symbol h is also used in combination with s as “Bhs” if the amount of the sesquioxide component is significant but the color value and chroma, moist, of the horizon are 3 or less.

Slightly decomposed organic material

This symbol is used with O to indicate the least decomposed of the organic materials. The fiber content of these materials is 40 percent or more (by volume) after rubbing.

Accumulation of jarosite

Jarosite is a potassium or iron sulfate mineral that is commonly an alteration product of pyrite that has been exposed to an oxidizing environment. Jarosite has hue of 2.5Y or yellower and normally has chroma of 6 or more, although chromas as low as 3 or 4 have been reported. [Note: No longer used to indicate “juvenile.”]

jj Evidence of cryoturbation

Evidence of cryoturbation includes irregular and broken horizon boundaries, sorted rock fragments, and organic soil materials existing as bodies and broken layers within and/or between mineral soil layers. The organic bodies and layers are most commonly at the contact between the active layer and the permafrost.

Accumulation of secondary carbonates

This symbol indicates an accumulation of visible pedogenic calcium carbonate (less than 50 percent, by volume). Carbonate accumulations exist as carbonate filaments, coatings, masses, nodules, disseminated carbonate, or other forms.

kk Engulfment of horizon by secondary carbonates

This symbol indicates major accumulations of pedogenic calcium carbonate. The suffix kk is used when the soil fabric is plugged with fine grained pedogenic carbonate (50 percent or more, by volume) that exists as an essentially continuous medium. The suffix corresponds to the stage III plugged horizon or higher of the carbonate morphogenetic stages (Gile et al., 1966).

Cementation or induration

This symbol indicates continuous or nearly continuous cementation. It is used only for horizons that are more than 90 percent cemented, although they may be fractured. The cemented layer is physically root-restrictive. The dominant cementing agent (or the two dominant ones) may be indicated by adding defined letter suffixes, singly or in pairs. The horizon suffix km or kkm indicates cementation by carbonates; qm, cementation by silica; sm, cementation by iron; yym, cementation by gypsum; kqm, cementation by lime and silica; and zm, cementation by salts more soluble than gypsum.

ma Marl

This symbol, used only with L, indicates a limnic layer of marl.

mn Mangans

This symbol indicates an accumulation of manganese oxide, generally as ped coatings called mangans (First used by Borchardt on 20130418.)

Accumulation of sodium

This symbol indicates an accumulation of exchangeable sodium.

Residual accumulation of sesquioxides

This symbol indicates a residual accumulation of sesquioxides.

Tillage or other disturbance

This symbol indicates a disturbance of the surface layer by mechanical means, pasturing, or similar uses. A disturbed organic horizon is designated Op. A disturbed mineral horizon is designated Ap even though it is clearly a former E, B, or C horizon.

Accumulation of silica

This symbol indicates an accumulation of secondary silica.

Weathered or soft bedrock

This symbol is used with C to indicate cemented layers (moderately cemented or less cemented). Examples are weathered igneous rock and partly consolidated sandstone, siltstone, or slate. The excavation difficulty is low to high.

Illuvial accumulation of sesquioxides and organic matter

This symbol is used with B to indicate an accumulation of illuvial, amorphous, dispersible complexes of organic matter and sesquioxides if both the organic-matter and sesquioxide components are significant and if either the color value or chroma, moist, of the horizon is 4 or more. The symbol is also used in combination with h as “Bhs” if both the organic-matter and sesquioxide components are significant and if the color value and chroma, moist, are 3 or less.

se Presence of sulfides

Typically dark colors (e.g., value <4, chroma <2); may have a sulfurous odor.

ss Presence of slickensides

This symbol indicates the presence of slickensides. Slickensides result directly from the swelling of clay minerals and shear failure, commonly at angles of 20 to 60 degrees above horizontal. They are indicators that other vertic characteristics, such as wedge-shaped peds and surface cracks, may be present.

Accumulation of silicate clay

This symbol indicates an accumulation of silicate clay that either has formed in situ within a horizon or has been moved into the horizon by illuviation, or both. At least some part of the horizon should show evidence of clay accumulation either as coatings on surfaces of peds or in pores, as lamellae, or as bridges between mineral grains.

Presence of human-manufactured materials (artifacts)

This symbol indicates the presence of manufactured artifacts that have been created or modified by humans, usually for a practical purpose in habitation, manufacturing, excavation, or construction activities. Examples of artifacts are processed wood products, liquid petroleum products, coal, combustion by-products, asphalt, fibers and fabrics, bricks, cinder blocks, concrete, plastic, glass, rubber, paper, cardboard, iron and steel, altered metals and minerals, sanitary and medical waste, garbage, and landfill waste.


This symbol indicates the presence of iron-rich, humus-poor, reddish material that is firm or very firm when moist and hardens irreversibly when exposed to the atmosphere and to repeated wetting and drying.

Development of color or structure

This symbol is used with B to indicate the development of color or structure, or both, with little or no apparent illuvial accumulation of material. It should not be used to indicate a transitional horizon.

Fragipan character

This symbol indicates a genetically developed layer that has a combination of firmness and brittleness and commonly a higher bulk density than the adjacent layers. Some part of the layer is physically root-restrictive.

Accumulation of gypsum

This symbol indicates an accumulation of gypsum (<50% by volume).

yy Dominance of gypsum

This symbol indicates an accumulation of gypsum (>50% by volume); light colored (e.g., value >7, chroma <4); may be pedogenically derived or inherited transformation of primary gypsum from parent material.

Accumulation of salts more soluble than gypsum

This symbol indicates an accumulation of salts that are more soluble than gypsum; e.g., NaCl.

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

ILLUVIATION. The deposition by percolating water of solid particles, mostly clay or humus, within a soil horizon.

INTERFLUVE. The land lying between streams.

ISOCHRONOUS BOUNDARY. A gradational boundary between two sedimentary units indicating that they are approximately the same age. Opposed to a nonisochronous boundary, which by its abruptness indicates that it delineates units having significant age differences.

KROTOVINA. An animal burrow filled with soil.

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

LOWSTAND. The lowest elevation reached by the ocean during a glacial period.

MANGAN. A thin coating of manganese oxide (cutan) on the surface of a sand grain, pebble, soil aggregate, or ped. Mangans also line pores or root channels and bridge sand grains.

MODERN SOIL. The portion of a soil section that is under the influence of current pedogenetic conditions. It generally refers to the uppermost soil regardless of age.

MODERN SOLUM. The combination of the A and B horizons in the modern soil.

MORPHOLOGY, SOIL. The physical make-up 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.

MOTTLING, SOIL. Irregularly marked with spots of different colors that vary in number and size. Mottling in soils usually indicates poor aeration and lack of drainage. Descriptive terms are as follows: abundance--few, common, and many; size--fine, medium, and coarse; and contrast--faint, distinct and prominent. The size measurements are these: fine, less than 5 mm in diameter along the greatest dimension; medium, from 5 to 15 mm, and coarse, more than 15 mm.

MRT (MEAN RESIDENCE TIME.) The average age of the carbon atoms within a soil horizon. Under ideal reducing conditions, the humus in a soil will have a C-14 age that is half the true age of the soil. In oxic soils humus is typically destroyed as fast as it is produced, generally yielding MRT ages no older than 300-1000 years, regardless of the true age of the soil.

MUNSELL COLOR NOTATION. Scientific description of color determined by comparing soil to a Munsell Soil Color Chart or with the use of a colorimeter. For example, dark yellowish brown is denoted as 10YR3/4m in which the 10YR refers to the hue or proportions of yellow and red, 3 refers to value or lightness (0 is black and 10 is white), 4 refers to chroma (0 is pure black and white and 20 is the pure color), and m refers to the moist condition rather than the dry (d) condition.

OVERBANK DEPOSIT. Fine-grained alluvial sediments deposited from floodwaters outside of the fluvial channel.

OXIC. A soil having a high redox potential. Such soils typically are well drained, seldom being waterlogged or lacking in oxygen. Rubification in such soils tends to increase with age.

PALEO SOIL TONGUE. A soil tongue that formed during a previous soil-forming interval.

PALEOSEISMOLOGY. The study of prehistoric earthquakes through the examination of soils, sediments, and rocks.

PALEOSOL. A soil that formed on a landscape in the past with distinctive morphological features resulting from a soil-forming environment that no longer exists at the site. The former pedogenic process was either altered because of external environmental change or interrupted by burial.

PALINSPASTIC RECONSTRUCTION. Diagrammatic reconstruction used to obtain a picture of what geologic and/or soil units looked like before their tectonic deformation.

PARENT MATERIAL. The great variety of unconsolidated organic and mineral material in which soil forms. Consolidated bedrock is not yet parent material by this concept.

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

PEDOCHRONOLOGY. The study of pedogenesis with regard to the determination of when soil formation began, how long it occurred, and when it stopped. Also known as soil dating. Two ages and the calculated duration are important:

 to = age when soil formation or aggradation began, ka

 tb = age when the soil or stratum was buried, ka

 td = duration of soil development or aggradation, kyr

Pedochronological estimates are based on available information. All ages should be considered subject to +50% variation unless otherwise indicated.

PEDOCHRONOPALEOSEISMOLOGY. The study of prehistoric earthquakes by using pedochronology.

PEDOLOGY. The study of the process through which rocks, sediments, and their constituent minerals are transformed into soils and their constituent minerals at or near the surface of the earth.

PEDOGENESIS. The process through which rocks, sediments, and their constituent minerals are transformed into soils and their constituent minerals at or near the surface of the earth.

PERCOLATION. The downward movement of water through the soil.

pH VALUE. The negative log of the hydrogen ion concentration. Measurements in soils are usually performed on 1:1 suspensions containing one part by weight of soil and one part by weight of distilled water. A soil with a pH of 7.0 is precisely neutral in reaction because it is neither acid nor alkaline. An acid or "sour" soil is one that gives an acid reaction; an alkaline soil is one that gives an alkaline reaction. In words, the degrees of acidity or alkalinity are expressed as:

Extremely acid <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 >9.0     Used if significant:   Very slightly acid 6.6 to 6.9 Very mildly alkaline 7.1 to 7.3

Extremely acid


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


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




Used if significant:


Very slightly acid

6.6 to 6.9

Very mildly alkaline

7.1 to 7.3

PHREATIC SURFACE. (See Water Table.)

PLANATION. The process of erosion whereby a portion of the surface of the Earth is reduced to a fundamentally even, flat, or level surface by a meandering stream, waves, currents, glaciers, or wind.

PLEISTOCENE. An epoch of geologic time extending from 11 ka to 1.8 Ma; it includes the last Ice Age.

PRESSURE FACES. Shiny surfaces on soil peds subject to shrink-swell in clayey soils. Unlike slickensides and soil slicks, they show only perpendicular movement to ped surfaces.

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

PROGRADATION. The building outward toward the sea of a shoreline or coastline by nearshore deposition.

QUATERNARY. A period of geologic time that includes the past 2.588 ± 0.005 Ma. It consists of two epochs--the Pleistocene and Holocene.

REFUGIUM. A place of refuge. Plants, animals, and soil minerals tend to accumulate only in the most ideal areas when surrounded by a hostile environment.

RELICT SOIL. A surface soil that was partly formed under climatic conditions significantly different from the present.

RUBIFICATION. The reddening of soils through the release and precipitation of iron as an oxide during weathering. Munsell hues and chromas of well-drained soils generally increase with soil age.

SALINE SOIL. A soil that contains soluble salts in amounts that impair the growth of crop plants but that does not contain excess exchangeable sodium.

SAND. Individual rock or mineral fragments in a soil that range in diameter from 0.05 to 2.0 mm. Most sand grains consist of quartz, but they may be of any mineral composition. The textural class name of any soil that contains 85 percent or more sand and not more than 10 percent clay.

SECONDARY FAULT. A minor fault that bifurcates from or is associated with a primary fault. Movement on a secondary fault never occurs independently of movement on the primary, seismogenic fault.

SHORELINE ANGLE. The line formed by the intersection of the wave-cut platform and the sea cliff. It approximates the position of sea level at the time the platform was formed.

SILT. Individual mineral particles in a soil that range in diameter from the upper limit of clay (0.002 mm) to the lower limit of very find sand (0.05 mm.) Soil of the silt textural class is 80 percent or more silt and less than 12 percent clay.

SLICKENSIDES. Polished and grooved surfaces produced by one mass sliding past another. In soils, slickensides may form along a fault plane; at the bases of slip surfaces on steep slopes; on faces of blocks, prisms, and columns undergoing shrink-swell. In tectonic slickensides, the striations are strictly parallel.

SLIP RATE. The rate at which the geologic materials on the two sides of a fault move past each other over geologic time. The slip rate is expressed in mm/yr, and the applicable duration is stated. Faults having slip rates less than 0.01 mm/yr are generally considered inactive, while faults with Holocene slip rates greater than 0.1 mm/yr generally display tectonic geomorphology.

SMECTITE. A fine, platy, aluminosilicate clay mineral that expands and contracts with the absorption and loss of water. It has a high cation-exchange capacity and is plastic and sticky when moist.

SOIL. A natural, three-dimensional body at the earth's surface that 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 SEISMOLOGIST. Soil scientist who studies the effects of earthquakes on soils.

SOIL SLICKS. Curvilinear striations that form in swelling clayey soils where there is marked change in moisture content. Clayey slopes buttressed by rigid materials may allow minor amounts of gravitationally driven plastic flow, forming soil slicks sometimes mistaken for evidence of tectonism. Soil slicks disappear with depth and the striations are seldom strictly parallel as they are when movement is major. (See also SLICKENSIDES.)

SOIL TECTONICS. The study of the interactions between soil formation and tectonism.

SOIL TONGUE. That portion of a soil horizon extending into a lower horizon.

SOLUM. Combined A and B horizons. Also called the true soil. If a soil lacks a B horizon, the A horizon alone is the solum.

STONELINE. A thin, buried, planar layer of stones, cobbles, or bedrock fragments. Stonelines of geological origin may have been deposited upon a former land surface. The fragments are more often pebbles or cobbles than stones. A stoneline generally overlies material that was subject to weathering, soil formation, and erosion before deposition of the overlying material. Many stonelines seem to be buried erosion pavements, originally formed by running water on the land surface and concurrently covered by surficial sediment.

STRATH TERRACE. A gently sloping terrace surface bearing little evidence of aggradation.

STRUCTURE, SOIL. The arrangement of primary soil particles into compound particles or aggregates that are separated from adjoining 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 regular cleavage, as in many hardpans).

SUBSIDIARY FAULT. A branching fault that extends a substantial distance from the main fault zone.

TECTOTURBATION. Soil disturbance resulting from tectonic movement.

TEXTURE, SOIL. Particle size classification of a soil, generally given in terms of the USDA system which uses the term "loam" for a soil having equal properties of sand, silt, and clay. The basic textural classes, in order of their increasing proportions of fine particles are sand, loamy sand, sandy loam, loam, silt loam, silt, sandy clay loam, clay loam, silty clay loam, sand clay, silty clay, and clay. The sand, loamy sand, and sandy loam classes may be further divided by specifying "coarse," "fine," or "very fine."

TOPOSEQUENCE. A sequence of kinds of soil in relation to position on a slope. (See also CATENA.)

TRANSLOCATION. The physical movement of soil particles, particularly fine clay, from one soil horizon to another under the influence of gravity.

UNIFIED SOIL CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM. The particle size classification system used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Like the ASTM and AASHO systems, the sand/silt boundary is at 80 um instead of 50 um used by the USDA. Unlike all other systems, the gravel/sand boundary is at 4 mm instead of 2 mm and the silt/clay boundary is determined by using Atterberg limits.

VERTISOL. A soil with at least 30% clay, usually smectite, that fosters pronounced changes in volume with change in moisture. Cracks greater than 1 cm wide appear at a depth of 50 cm during the dry season each year. One of the ten USDA soil orders.

WATER TABLE. The upper limit of the soil or underlying rock material that is wholly saturated with water. Also called the phreatic surface.

WAVE-CUT PLATFORM. The relatively smooth, slightly seaward-dipping surface formed along the coast by the action of waves generally accompanied by abrasive materials.

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.

WETTING FRONT. The greatest depth affected by moisture due to precipitation.

yr B.P. Uncorrected radiocarbon age expressed in years before present, calculated from 1950. Calendar-corrected ages are expressed in ka (or cal BP), or, if warranted, as AD or BCE (before the common era).





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