# Soil Investigations

© 2002 American Geological Institute http://www.agiweb.org

Contents: All Activities and Investigations

### Soil Investigations

Investigation 1
Investigation 2
Investigation 3
Investigation 4
Investigation 5
Investigation 6
Investigation 7

Throughout this module, students will use hands-on, inquiry-based explorations to investigate:
• the kinds of materials in soil
• the arrangement of soil materials
• the amount of water the soil can hold
• how water flows through soil

• how soil is eroded
Investigation 1 -- Beginning to Investigate Soil To learn more about soil types and formation, visit the following web sites:

• Soil Types

• From the University of Illinois, this site discusses soil types and particle sizes.
(http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/gpe/case2/c2facts2.html)
• "Soils Photo Gallery - Soil Order" - USDA-NRCS National Soil Survey Center

• This site includes a written description of different soil types and a photograph and United States distribution map for each soil type.
(http://www.statlab.iastate.edu/soils/photogal/orders/soiord.htm)
• "Structure and Formation of Soils" - NOAA Coastal Services Center

• Brief summary of soil horizons and the mechanisms that produce them.  Click on significant terms to view a definition.
(http://www.csc.noaa.gov/otter/htmls/ecosys/physical/soil_def.htm)
• "Keys to Soil Taxonomy" - USDA-NRCS

• Online textbook covers a wide range of topics, including which soils scientists classify and how they classify them.
(http://www.statlab.iastate.edu/soils/keytax/content.html)
Back to top
Investigation 2 -- Separating Soil by Settling

To learn more about gravity, friction, and their effect on the settling of grains in water, visit the following web sites:
• "Stoke's Law" - Maine Maritime Academy

• This brief article explains the mathematical formula used to calculate how fast particles will settle in a liquid.
(http://bell.mma.edu/~jbouch/Glossary/StokesLaw.html)
• "How fast do sediment grains of different sizes settle?", Society for Sedimentary Geology

• Check out this sample lesson plan for a lab about sediment grains settling rate.
(http://www.beloit.edu/~SEPM/Earth_Works/How_fast_do_sed.html)

Back to top
Investigation 3 -- Separating Soil by Sieving

To learn more about the materials in this investigation:

• "Constructing a Set of Soil Sieves" - Maine Geological Survey

• (http://www.state.me.us/doc/nrimc/pubedinf/crest/activity/act29.htm)
This site provides instructions for making a set of different mesh screen strainers.

To learn more about the materials commonly found in soils, visit the following web sites:

• "Organic Matter in Soil" - USDA/NRCS

• This site reviews the basics of organic content in the soil of your backyard garden.
(http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/backyard/orgmtrsl.html)
• "Soil Quality Indicators: Organic Material" - NRCS

• This PDF (you must have Adobe Acrobat to view this file) explains how organic material is incorporated into soil and why it is important.
(http://www.statlab.iastate.edu/survey/SQI/pdf/sq_fou_1.pdf)
• "Soil Minerals" - Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Illinois), NEWTON

• This online article reviews the major constituents of soil, with a focus on the elements which are essential for plant growth.
(http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/natbltn/700-799/nb707.htm)
Back to top
Investigation 4 -- Examining Core Samples of Soil

To learn more about topographic and soil maps, visit the following web sites:

• Topographic Maps Online

• Courtesy of the Microsoft Corporation, 57,000 U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps were digitized and are now available on the Web.
(http://terraserver.microsoft.com/default.asp)
• "Need a Map?" - Maptech

• Just type in the city and state.
(http://www.maptech.com/mapserver/index.cfm)
• "Topographic Map Symbols" - USGS

• This site has information on reading topographic maps.
(http://mapping.usgs.gov/mac/isb/pubs/booklets/symbols/reading.html)
• "What do Maps Show?" - USGS

• A USGS site for kids and teachers. Describes map types and features, including how to interpret them.
(http://interactive2.usgs.gov/learningweb/teachers/mapsshow.htm)
• "Soils Photo Gallery - Soil Order" - USDA-NRCS National Soil Survey Center

• This site includes a written description of different soil types and a photograph and United States distribution map for each soil type.
(http://www.statlab.iastate.edu/soils/photogal/orders/soiord.htm)
• "What is a State Soil?" - USDA-NRCS National Soil Survey Center

• Explains that each state has a representative soil series and how this is defined.  Click on your state to view a written description, photograph, and distribution map for the soils in your state.
(http://www.statlab.iastate.edu/soils/photogal/statesoils/list1.htm)
• "State/Area Soil Offices" - USDA-NCS National Soil Survery Center

• Click on your state to be linked to your state's soil office.
(http://www.statlab.iastate.edu/soils/soildiv/personnel/states.htm)
Back to top
Investigation 5 -- Water and Other Chemicals in Soil
To learn more about the importance of water and other chemicals in soil, visit the following web sites:
• "Soil Quality Resource Concerns: Available Water Capacity" - NRCS

• This PDF (you must have Adobe Acrobat to view this file) looks at the properties that affect water availability in soil and how soil influences water quality.
(http://www.statlab.iastate.edu/survey/SQI/pdf/avwater.pdf)
• "Taking a Soil Sample"

• Good web site for procedural information on taking soil samples. This comes from the University of Minnesota.
(http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/components/1731-02.html)
• "Surf Your Watershed" - EPA

• This site offers links to a wide range of data on environmental conditions.
(http://cfpub.epa.gov/surf/locate/index.cfm)
Back to top
Investigation 6 -- Soil Erosion

To learn more about soil erosion:
• "Soil Quality Resource Concerns: Soil Erosion" - NRCS

• This PDF (you must have Adobe Acrobat to view this file) reviews what erosion is, how to detect signs of erosion, why erosion is a problem, and possible solutions to reducing soil erosion.
(http://www.statlab.iastate.edu/survey/SQI/pdf/sq_two_1.pdf)
• "Soil Erosion - Index of Maps, Facts, and Figures" - NRCS

• This site contains a long list of soil erosion maps and tables, including data for wind and water erosion, and erosion on different types of soil.  Map pages include color US maps as well as descriptions of the maps and definitions for "technical" terms.
(http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/land/erosion.html)
• "Soil and Sediment Erosion" - US Global Change Research Information Office

• Site reviews the causes of erosion by wind and water, the significance of erosion as a social and economic problem, and how erosion can be monitored.  Links are imbedded within the text that provide further information on topics such as wind erosion and soil quality.
(http://www.gcrio.org/geo/soil.html)
Back to top
Investigation 7 -- Using Soil Data to Plan a Garden
To learn more about planning a successful garden, visit the following web sites:

• Soil pH Modification

• This site discusses pH and plant growth requirements.
(http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/components/1731-03.html)
• Vegetable and Flower Gardens

• This site has general information on nutrient requirements in gardens.
(http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/components/1731-26.html)
• Soil pH Preferences for Selected Landscape Plants

• This is a very useful pH preference chart for common landscape plants, organized by Latin names.
(http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/components/1731-29.html)
• "Soil Quality Indicators: pH" - NRCS

• This PDF (you must have Adobe Acrobat to view this file) explains what pH is, what controls soil pH, how soil pH is measured, and more.
(http://www.statlab.iastate.edu/survey/SQI/pdf/indicate.pdf)
• "Minerals for Soil: How to Use Rock-Based Fertilizers and Amendments to Increase the Vitality of Your Soil" - National Gardening Association

• This article contains information on what do to if your garden soil has a pH above or below what is considered ideal (6-7), including which fertilizers to use and when to apply them.
(http://nationalgardening.com/articles/scripts/articles.taf?id=238&kwd=soil&Articlesstart=1)
• "Growing Vegetables in the Home Garden" - USDA-ARS

• This site examines factors to consider when selecting a garden site, how to protect the garden from damage, how to reach ideal levels of sunshine and water drainage, how to prepare the soil, and more.
(http://www.hoptechno.com/book26.htm)
• Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES)

• To find information and gardening tips specfic to your state, click on your state on the US map.  This will take you to a new page of state-related resources.  Click on the link to your state's Cooperative Extension Office.
(http://www.reeusda.gov/1700/statepartners/usa.htm)
• State Master Gardner Coordinators

• Master Gardners are volunteers within the community who teach about gardening, and can be a valuable resource when starting a new garden.  To find a Master Gardner near your community, contact your state's Master Gardner Coordinator.
(http://mastergardener.osu.edu/)
Back to top
Resources:

Web Sites:

Maps:
• Geologic maps: State and local:
• The United States Geological Survey National Geologic Map Database contains information on how and where to obtain geologic maps. (http://ngmdb.usgs.gov/)
• Your state Geological Survey - find your state survey on-line at Association of American State Geologists (http://www.kgs.ukans.edu/AASG/AASG.html).
• Download state geologic maps at About.com's site.  (http://geology.about.com/science/geology/cs/geomapsusstates/)
• Reading Geologic Maps - informative review on how to read and interpret geologic maps.  (http://geology.about.com/science/geology/library/weekly/aa100800a.htm)

• Geologic maps: Regional (two or more states):
• The on-line bookstore of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (http://bookstore.AAPG.org; 918-584-2555)
• Topographic maps: Local
• The United States Geological Survey MapFinder allows you to order 7.5 minute maps online for \$4 per map plus \$5 s/h per order. (http://edc.usgs.gov/Webglis/glisbin/finder_main.pl?dataset_name=MAPS_LARGE)
• The United States Geological Survey maintains a list of Map Dealers.  Click on your state to obtain a list of retailers who sell maps. (http://mapping.usgs.gov/esic/map_dealers/)
• The United States Geological Survey National Geologic Map Database site on How to find topographic maps (http://ngmsvr.wr.usgs.gov/Other_Resources/rdb_topo.html)
• TopoZone site allows you to download topographic maps (including USGS maps) for free, at various scales (from 1:100,000 to 1:24,000).  (http://www.topozone.com/)
• MapServer offers free online viewing of topo, nautical and aeronautical charts plus high altitude digital ortho quads (nav photos). (www.maptech.com and www.mapserver.maptech.com)
• General Map Resources:
• An excellent list of map resources available online can be found on the Central Michigan University Resources for Earth Science and Geography Instruction web site.  Included are links to sites to make maps, as well as links to free downloadable outline maps, satellite imagery, GPS, and GIS databases. (http://personal.cmich.edu/~franc1m/locamap.htm)
• "Maps" - USGS Earth Science Information Center, includes general map information, from how to read maps to how to obtain them.  Also includes links to further information regarding topographic, thematic, planetary maps, and more. (http://ask.usgs.gov/maps.html)
• National Geographic (maps and videos): 1-800-962-1643 (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/maps/index.html)
• "Maps of the United States" - USGS fact sheet, contains a series of depictions of the United States, along with information on how to obtain additional US maps. (http://www.usgs.gov/fact-sheets/maps-us/index.html)
• "Maps of the World" - USGS fact sheet, contains a series of world maps, including outline maps, seismicity maps, and political maps.  Also contains information for ordering more specific world maps. (http://www.usgs.gov/fact-sheets/maps-world/maps-world.html)
• "National Atlas Maps" - USGS site of a variety of US maps that are available online, including shaded relief maps, aquifer maps, and further information on how to order maps not available online.  (http://www-atlas.usgs.gov/atlasmap.html?)
Videos:

Books:

• Landslides, Slumps, & Creep (First Books - Earth and Sky Science)

• Franklin Watts, Incorporated; ISBN: 0531158977
• Keeping the Land Alive: Soil Erosion, Its Causes and Cures (Soils Bulletin, No 50)

• Food & Agriculture Org; ISBN: 925101342X
• Soil Science Simplified by Helmut Kohnke, D.P. Franzmeier

• Waveland Press; ISBN: 0881338133
Magazines:
• Geotimes.  Published by the American Geological Institute, this magazine reviews current issues in the Earth Sciences and can serve as a valuable supplemental resource for teachers and students alike.  Visit the web site for online articles and information about obtaining a one-year subscription (40% discount for AGI Member Society members; 65% discount for students).

• (http://www.geotimes.org/current/)
• Excellent sources of high-school level articles are in both National Geographic (which often has maps), and Science News

• (describing the most recent and interesting events in scientific research.)
Back to top