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 Home » Tutorials » Geography » Physical Geography » Soils



Soils are products of a complex mixture of weathered and eroded rock materials on the one hand and organic residues on the other. Weathering changes consolidated mass (rock) to an unconsolidated (loose) material.

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The decomposition of plants and microorganisms releases organic chemicals (humus) that interact with the loose material, giving rise to various kinds of soils. These changes involve addition, loss, transformation and translocation. Additions are made by water (rainfall, irrigation), nitrogen from bacterial fixation, energy as sunlight, sediment from wind and water, salts and organic residues. Losses result from chemicals soluble in soil water, eroded small-sized fractions, nutrients removed in grazed and harvested plants, water losses, carbon losses as carbon dioxide and denitrification loss of N2. Transformations happen because of many chemical and biological reactions that decompose organic matter. Water and organisms move within the soil causing translocation of substances at different depths. Organic soils develop from an accumulation of plant residues that are preserved by the low oxygen environment of shallow and stagnant waters. Non-soils are surface material that do not support plant life, such as the salt flats of Great Salt Lake and rock barrens.


All soil forming processes involve weathering, There are, however, several other factors that influence the end product of weathering. Five of them are primary factors. They singly or jointly are responsible for the development of various types of soils. These factors are:

Parent Material

Soils from weakly cemented sandstone will be sandy and soils from shales will be shallow and fine-textured. Similarly clay formation is favoured more by a high percentage of decomposable dark minerals and less by quartz. The parent material, thus, influences the soil formation by their different rates of weathering.


Acidic soils are formed in humid areas due to intense weathering and leaching. Alkaline soils are formed in areas of low rainfall due to the accumulation or retention of lime. The climate is an increasingly dominant factor in forming varied type of soils especially because of the effects of temperature and precipitation. It also plays an indirect role in the formation of soil by way of its influence on vegetation.


The decomposition of organic wastes and residues and the activities of living plants and animals have marked influence on the soil development. Burrowing animals, such as moles, prairie dogs, earthworms, ants and termites help soil development slowly by decomposing organic matters and forming weak acids that dissolve mineral faster. The roots of living plants and decomposed plant material releases weak organic acids that help in weathering and soil development.


Steep hillsides have thin soil cover because of surface runoff that results in the erosion of surface. On the other hand, gentle hillsides preserve appreciable soil cover due to the luxuriant vegetation and sufficient water passing in vertically to deeper levels. The landlocked depressions receive high amount of runoff water that favours appreciable vegetation cover but slower decomposition because of oxidation deficiency. This results in the formation of soil that is rich in organic matter. The topography influences the soil formation through its relationship with water and temperature.


Under ideal conditions, a recognisable soil profile may develop in 200 years and under less favourable circumstances, it may extend to several thousand years. The rate of soil development is determined by the effects of time and other distinct factors climate, parent material, topography and biota.

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