There are many different individual soil types, so classifying them makes it easier to use them and to understand their differences for a specific outcome. It also allows for comparisons to be made between the soils of different regions because of a recognition of their common properties. Soil classification initially began with agricultural purposes in mind and since then has been used in ecological studies.
Natural vs. Technical
According to David Rossiter, in "Principles of Soil Classification," there are various ways of classifying soils, and a major way is to distinguish between natural and technical approaches. Natural soil classification categorizes soils by their inherent properties, behavior, and chemical composition. Technical soil classifications group soils by their properties or functions that relate directly to a proposed use and are more widely employed in industry and agriculture.
Natural soil classification groups soils by the region they are found in and the surrounding ecosystems. The ecological properties of the soil are considered using ecology regional classification, including factors such as water quality, geomorphology, and biodiversity. As part of an ecosystem, soils are a function of the climate, topography, weathering, vegetation, and ecological history of a region, according to Michigan Tech.
Genetic Soil Classification
By using genetic soil classification methods, soils are grouped by what Rossiter (see reference 1) refers to as "presumed genesis," which takes into consideration that each soil has a personal history and ecology. It also takes into account the development of the soil profile, which depends on the interpretation of the landscape and soil genesis by the researcher.
One of the technical soil classifications most used is the fertility capability of the soil. This has an important application for agriculture as it can both assess the land under current cultivation and help scout new areas suitable for cultivation. Fertility capability readings are based on the attributes of the topsoil (measured quantitatively) and the soil taxonomy. Fertility capability soil classifications are especially important in areas where land is scarce and maximum output is required from cultivated land, such as on islands or arid regions.
Land Use Capability
Land use capability is a soil classification type widely used by governments and planning agencies for land zoning purposes. According to The Natural Resources Conservation Service (see reference 3), the land use capability method lends itself very well to this kind of application because it uses eight classes of land, each with a different use capability. Thus, an area already mapped out under the land use capability classification method will provide a good indication of how to zone areas of land.
- Photo Credit soil erosion image by Vasiliy Koval from Fotolia.com