soil versus dirt

The law of conversation of energy states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed simply redistributed.   This means that energy can change from different phases, such as chemical energy changing to kinetic energy. While this can take place in a variety of situations apparent to the naked eye, a great deal also takes place in soil (where everything comes laid to rest) away from the view of the naked eye. Due to this fact, soil is very much alive and it is soil that is the great equalizer where life and death intersect.

However, soil and dirt are not the same. Pat Megonigal, the curator for the Smithsonian’s soil exhibit, has been quoted as saying that dirt is “displaced soil”. To clarify, this means that dirt is the result of the disruption of the community that is formed by the organic and inorganic matters in soil has been disrupted and some of the inorganic matter is relocated, for example, dirt on the bottom of one’s shoes and soil is the foundation of a successful garden.

There are three inorganic particles that compose soil – sand, silt and clay. It is possible for soils to be composed of solely one particle, but it is more often a combination of all three. For soil to be soil, it must have organic matter, such as microorganisms.

Soil Behavior is determined by the texture and the structure. Soil structure is determined by how the particles (i.e. sand, silt, clay and organic matter) are bound together. These soil structures are called peds. Their shape is largely determined by the local environment, for example the amount of precipitation and the temperature. The amount of space between these various particles (pores) allow for varying amounts of oxygen, water retention, and microorganism movement.

Soil behavior can generally be recognized by color. For instance, soil that is brightly colored drains well, while soil that is unevenly colored is regularly damp. The color is also indicative of the mineral content. However, soil that is high in organic matter is generally dark brown as the organic matter masks the coloring agents.


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