The Maine Association for Professional Soil Scientists (MAPSS) recently held their annual field workshop at Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment. MAPSS was formed in 1978 with the mission of promoting soil science through peer exchange and education. The membership includes soil scientists and geologists with different professional backgrounds and expertises in both the government and private sectors. At this year’s field workshop, 40 soil scientists descended on the property to assess soil pits that had been excavated in Wolfe’s Neck Center’s pasture, campground, and in Wolfe’s Neck State Park. The workshop focused on identifying soil parent materials, human altered or human transported materials, and hydric soil characteristics and determinations.
What is parent material?
Parent material is the minerals, rocks or organic matter that forms the soil.
What are human altered or transported materials?
Human altered soils have been manipulated by us. For example, Wolfe’s Neck Center’s agricultural fields have been plowed and tilled in the past, which has permanently altered their composition.
What is a hydric soil?
A hydric soil is a soil that has been saturated long enough to restrict oxygen and impact the growth of plants. Establishing the depth of hydric soils helps professional soil scientists determine the height of the water table.
The soil scientists spent the morning examining the profiles of the soil and determining texture, color, and the depth of the water table at each site. A soil profile is the vertical section of a soil that exposes the soil’s layers or horizons. These five horizons (O, E, A, B, C, R) are what tell the story of the soil.
The O horizon or organic horizon is made up of organic matter. Not all soils have an O horizon, these are generally present in areas with lots of vegetation like a prairie or forest.
- The A horizon is also known as the topsoil and is made of organic matter and minerals from the parent material. This is the same topsoil that makes your vegetables grow in the spring and summer.
- The E horizon contains no clay, minerals, or organic matter, and is typically only found in forested or undisturbed soils.
- The B horizon is the subsoil, which is rich in minerals that have leached from the upper horizons.
- The C horizon is the parent material and is responsible for the formation of the soil in the upper horizons.
- R horizon is bedrock.
After the morning of soil analysis, the soil scientists met back up at Wolfe’s Neck Center’s Mallet Barn to discuss and debate their findings. Workshops like these are necessary in helping soil scientists learn how to analyze the horizons to make better land management decisions, including whether or not to build, if a septic system can be installed, or if the soil can support agricultural production.