The Makeup of Soil
The Makeup of Soil
Minerals and organic matter comprise the solid phase of the soil. The geological origin of the soil minerals, and the input of organic matter from plants and animals, are briefly discussed in section 1.2.1. A basic knowledge of the composition and properties of these materials is fundamental to understanding how a soil influences the growth of grapevines. A striking feature of soil is the size range of the mineral matter, which varies from boulders (>600 mm diameter), to stones and gravel (600 to >2 mm diameter), to particles (<2 mm diameter)—the fine earth fraction. The fine earth fraction is the most important because of the type of minerals present and their large surface areas. The ratio of surface area to volume defines the specific surface area of a particle. The smaller the size of an object, the larger is the ratio of its surface area to volume. This can be demonstrated by considering spherical particles of radius 0.1 mm, 0.01 mm, and 0.001 mm (1 micrometer or micron, μm). The specific surface areas of these particles are 30, 300, and 3000 mm2/mm3, respectively. In practice, the specific surface area is measured as the surface area per unit mass, which implies a constant particle density (usually taken as 2.65 Mg/m3). A large specific surface area means that more molecules can be adsorbed on the surface. Representative values for the specific surface areas of sand, silt, and clay-size minerals are given in table 2.1. Note the large range in specific surface area, even for the clay minerals, from as little as 5 m2/g for kaolinite to 750 m2/g for Na-montmorillonite. Because specific surface areas are important, we need to know the size distribution of particles in the fine earth fraction. This is expressed as the soil’s texture. The types of minerals that make up the individual size fractions are also important because they too influence the reactivity of the surfaces. Both these topics are discussed here. All soils show a continuous distribution of particle sizes, called a frequency distribution. This distribution relates the number (or mass) of particles of a given size to their actual size, measured by the diameter of an equivalent sphere.
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