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The Scoop on Soil
By Laura G. Smith

1     What do earth worms, fresh vegetables, and fragrant flowers all have in common? They all rely upon soil for their existence. Actually, all forms of life on earth depend upon the soil, either directly or indirectly.
2     Plants are rooted in soil and receive nourishment from it. Animals get their food from either the plants rooted in the soil or from other animals that eat the plants. Humans rely upon the soil to nourish the crops that produce our fruits and vegetables. The soil also provides shelter for many kinds of animals.
3     Soil is made up of mineral and organic particles, other plant and animal matter, air, and water. There are many different kinds of soils, each having its own color and texture. It takes a long period of time for soil to form, and it is destroyed very easily. It's important that we conserve this valuable natural resource so it can continue to support life.
4     Soil formation begins with a process called weathering. Weathering involves the physical disintegration and chemical decomposition of rocks, minerals, and immature soils at or near the earth's surface. Weathering also initiates the erosion of rock, causing changes in the surface layers of the Earth.
5     As weathering occurs, soils are formed taking on different characteristics based on five environmental factors. These factors include (1) kinds of parent materials (rocks or other material that is broken down), (2) climate, (3) land surface features, (4) living organisms, and (5) time.
6     Parent materials contain different types of minerals that impact the make up of the soil that is eventually formed. This will affect the type of plants that are able to grow in the soil. For instance, azalea shrubs grow better in soil that is rich in iron.
7     Climate affects the physical and chemical activity in the soil. For example, cold weather and dry air cause the physical breakdown of rock materials. High temperatures and humidity are more likely to cause chemical breakdown and decay of materials.
8     Land surface features (or topography) also influence soil development. Soil that is on the side of a hill will be eroded (washed away) by rain, leaving the rock below exposed to weathering. These soils have less time to form and therefore develop less than soils on flat surfaces. The lay of the land also affects the temperature of the soil, causing different levels of chemical breakdown of the particles. For instance, the soil on a hillside that receives direct sunlight most of the day would absorb far more heat than the shaded soil beneath a large maple tree.
9     Living organisms and organic material (materials that come from plants or animals) help soil develop, and they also protect it from erosion. The death and decay of plants and animals add organic material to the soil, which helps to support new organisms. Soils that have a healthy plant cover can better resist erosion.

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