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What do scientists see in soil pits?

on January 25, 2014

Soils Matter, Get the Scoop!

Question: When soil scientists dig a big hole to examine the soil, what are they looking for exactly?

Answer: Soil scientists are looking for several things when they examine the soil exposed in a hole–or, as soil scientists like to call it–a soil pit.

A soil scientist wants to establish which layers, or horizons (designated O, A, E, B, C, and/or R), exist in a given soil, as well as the depth and thicknesses of those horizons. These horizons are established based on differences in properties like soil color, texture (the combination of sand, silt, and clay that makes up the mineral portion of soil), organic content, and structure (the arrangement of sand, silt, and clay particles into regular shapes).

Differences in color (see the photo above) are one of the most obvious criteria that differentiate soil horizons. See the blog entry on soil color for more information on what…

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