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 Soil and geological maps

Soil and geological maps

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There is something about soil maps from the early twentieth century. Their colors seem more vivid than those of modern maps. Even their legends are more interesting: Soil maps were primarily created to delineate the soils of the state, they show much more than that: They offer a glimpse of the transportation infrastructure (steam and electric railroads, trails, ferry landings), landscape features that may not be visible today (salt marshes, swamps, tidal flats, escarpments, rock outcrops), and geology (stony and gravelly areas, quarries).

Soil is our most valuable resource. It is basic to all life processes. It is the medium for growing food and fiber. It provides the foundations for homes, stores, factories, schools, airports, roads, and playgrounds.

A soil survey is an acre-by-acre inventory of the soil resource. It is developed by a professional soil scientist who covers the land on foot, examines the soil in detail, and classifies it according to a national system of soil taxonomy. The location of each kind of soil is plotted. Each soil is then interpreted or translated in regard to how it will respond when subjected to various uses and management. 

In the US soil maps are published by the U. S. Government Printing Office.While the National Cooperative Soil Survey has involved multiple partners since it's inception in 1896, Federal responsibility for coordinating partner efforts has resided within the USDA. However, soil survey responsibilities have moved several times within the USDA:

  • 1894 Division of Agricultural Soil within the USDA Weather Bureau.
  • 1899 Name changed to Division of Soils.
  • 1901 Division moved up in status to Bureau of Soils.
  • 1927 Merged with the Bureau of Chemistry, forming the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils.
  • 1938 Soils unit transferred to the Bureau of Plant Industry.
  • 1942 Changed name to Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering, becoming part of the Agricultural Research Administration.
  • 1952 Soil survey program transferred to the Soil Conservation Service (SCS).
  • 1994 Name changed to Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Early history.
######### The original Federal authority for the soil survey of the United States is contained in the record of the 53rd Congress, chapter 169, Agricultural Appropriations Act of 1896. Millton Whitney was the first Chief of the Division of Agricultural Soil. The division was created under the USDA Weather Bureau in 1894, but, with the inception of National Cooperative Soil Survey efforts, became the Division of Soils as an independent division within the Department of Agriculture. The early vision of soil survey was a survey that combined geography with soil chemistry. The men conducting the surveys were geologists or chemists; none had training in agronomy. 

On May 3rd, 1899 with an appropriation of $16,000 Whitney began field operations. In four separate soil surveys about 720,000 acres were mapped that first year. Cecil County, Maryland, and Connecticut Valley, Connecticut, concentrated on tobacco lands. Survey of the Salt Lake Valley of Utah and the Pecos River Valley of New Mexico concentrated on alkali soil areas where irrigation and land reclamation projects were planned. Soil surveys focused on cropland or interpretations for cropland until the 1970's when the scope of the NCSS was expanded to focus on urban lands.

Soil texture was the main differentiating soil characteristic used in the early survey process. Soil series were soon to follow as groupings of soil types. By 1906 Miami soil series included 16 soil types from the glaciated regions and Norfolk series included 12 soil types from the coastal plains. Several other characteristics were added by that time. They were soil color, organic content, soil structure, drainage, erodibility, and nature of subsoil. Soil provinces were established and soil series were confined to their area. Series at first were identified where the soils formed from the same accumulated parent material: glaciated, wind blown, alluvial etc.

Geological Survey maps were generally unavailable and early soil surveyors used the plane table and alhidade to develop their own base maps. Work for soil surveys was done at a mapping scale 1 inch to the mile. Scale as of 1999 is pretty well standardized at 1:12000 or 1:24000. 6 different scales have been used in published soil surveys.

In 1913, Curtis Marbut was appointed Scientist in Charge of the Soil Survey, the position he held almost until his death. Marbut was Professor of Geology and Physiography at the University of Missouri from 1895 until 1910. As a geologist and geographer his initial view was that soils were surface reflections of the geology below them. Marbut changed to recognize soil science as distinct from geology. Eugene W. Hilgard of the University of California and Hopkins of the University of Illinois greatly influenced this change. The land-grant universities from the very start were close partners in National Cooperative Soil Survey. By 1920, most soil surveyors were graduates of land-grant universities and other agricultural colleges with training in soils and crops.

The recognition of soil science as a distinct discipline was also influenced by the Russian school of soil science and K. D. Glinka (1867-1927) in particular. These soil scientists characterized soils based on soil horizons of the soil profile. This recognized soils more on natural boundaries. Previously the soil was divided into sections by 6 2/3 inch increments to 40 inches depth. Depths used were 0 to 7, 7 to 13, 13 to 20, 20 to 27, 27 to 34, 34 to 40 inches. Forty inches was the depth of observation for a number of years, then later it was extended to 60 inches and subsequently to 2 meters.

In 1920, Marbut began his work on a soil classification scheme. In 1927, he published a translation of Glinka's The Great Soil Groups of the World and their Development from German to English. His classification scheme became the 1935 system that was modified to become the system published in the 1938 Yearbook of Agriculture, Soils and Men: the 1938 USDA soil taxonomy. At the highest level of classification the soils were divided into pedocals and pedalfers. Pedocals were used in the drier climates and referred to the carbonate rich soils. The Pedalfers began about at the Udic border and referred to soils rich in Aluminum (Alumen) and Iron (Ferrous). Alfer became the root term for Alfisols.

Following 1938, classifying soil series according to the system met with mixed success. By 1945, the development of a new system began. The first version, termed an "approximation" was tested by the 1948. A series of approximations followed and the 7th approximation came out in 1960. The supplement to the 7th approximation was approved for use in 1965. USDA soil taxonomy, with 10 soil orders came out in 1975. It was revised into the 2nd edition with 12 soil orders in 1999.

Julius Bien  
Another great person in the field was Julies Bien (later Bien & Co), he was born and educated in Germany, and moved to America in 1849. He started his business as an engraver and lithographer, later trading as a publisher. He built up a leading map making establishment employing more than two hundred people and several lithographic and copperplate presses. Worked extensively for US Government.



The first soil map of Belgium was compiled in 1853 by A. Dumont at scale 1:160,000 on commission of the Ministry of Agriculture. Belgium was subdivided into 9 geological-agricultural zones. It showed the broad agricultural potential of the country as reflected in soil texture and lithology of parent materials.
The map of Dumont formed the basis for a new initiative by Malaise who produced soil maps at scales of 1:200,000 and 1:60,000 between 1867 and 1871, also following an agricultural approach. At the end of the 19th century, the introduction of mineral fertilizers triggered new mapping initiatives based on chemical analysis of the topsoil.

#########P. Fallot was a well known french geologist in the first part of the 19th century and in 1938 he was appointed as a professor at the College de France.