Problems with determining the particle size distribution of chalk soil and some of their implications

Kerry, R.; Rawlins, B.G.; Oliver, M.A.; Lacinska, A.M.. 2009 Problems with determining the particle size distribution of chalk soil and some of their implications. Geoderma, 152 (3-4). 324-337.

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Particle size distribution (psd) is one of the most important features of the soil because it affects many of its other properties, and it determines how soil should be managed. To understand the properties of chalk soil, psd analyses should be based on the original material (including carbonates), and not just the acid-resistant fraction. Laser-based methods rather than traditional sedimentation methods are being used increasingly to determine particle size to reduce the cost of analysis. We give an overview of both approaches and the problems associated with them for analyzing the psd of chalk soil. In particular, we show that it is not appropriate to use the widely adopted 8 µm boundary between the clay and silt size fractions for samples determined by laser to estimate proportions of these size fractions that are equivalent to those based on sedimentation. We present data from field and national-scale surveys of soil derived from chalk in England. Results from both types of survey showed that laser methods tend to over-estimate the clay-size fraction compared to sedimentation for the 8 µm clay/silt boundary, and we suggest reasons for this. For soil derived from chalk, either the sedimentation methods need to be modified or it would be more appropriate to use a 4 µm threshold as an interim solution for laser methods. Correlations between the proportions of sand- and clay-sized fractions, and other properties such as organic matter and volumetric water content, were the opposite of what one would expect for soil dominated by silicate minerals. For water content, this appeared to be due to the predominance of porous, chalk fragments in the sand-sized fraction rather than quartz grains, and the abundance of fine (< 2 µm) calcite crystals rather than phyllosilicates in the clay-sized fraction. This was confirmed by scanning electron microscope (SEM) analyses. “Of all the rocks with which I am acquainted, there is none whose formation seems to tax the ingenuity of theorists so severely, as the chalk, in whatever respect we may think fit to consider it”. Thomas Allan, FRS Edinburgh 1823, Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: BGS Programmes 2009 > Land use and development
ISSN: 0016-7061
NORA Subject Terms: Agriculture and Soil Science
Date made live: 18 Sep 2009 13:46 +0 (UTC)

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