Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Soils and paleosols

December 2, 2020

Soils are naturally occurring bodies that form in the interface between the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. They are the medium for much of the Earth's plant and animal growth. Soil morphology and how it evolves are functions of the soil-forming factors of climate, organisms, relief, parent material, and time. The expression of soil morphology takes the form of layers, called horizons, that differ in their color, particle size distribution, structure, chemistry, and organic matter content from the parent material. A fundamental soil mapping unit in the USA is the soil order and 12 soil orders have been defined on the basis of soil morphology, physical and chemical properties, and climate. Soil geography in the USA is explained by an examination of how these 12 soil orders are found in particular climates, under specific vegetation communities, how they develop from compositionally distinct parent materials, or how they are a result of the age of soil parent material. Paleosols are ancient soils, those that formed in the past. Three types of paleosols are recognized, buried soils (those covered by a younger sediment or rock), exhumed paleosols (formerly buried soils that are now exposed at the surface due to erosion of overlying materials), and relict paleosols (soils that occur at the land surface, but which formed in an environment, such as a climate or biome, very different from that at the present time). Paleosols can help define geologic contacts and can aid in elucidating past climates or vegetation regimes. Although there are rich geologic records of paleosols in the Quaternary, there is an increasing recognition of the importance of all these features in the longer, pre-Quaternary geologic record.

Publication Year 2021
Title Soils and paleosols
DOI 10.1016/B978-0-12-409548-9.12002-0
Authors Daniel R. Muhs
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70229500
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center