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Zonal Soils and Climate

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a) What is meant by the zonal concept in the study of soils? b) Evaluate the role of climate in the formation of zonal soils? a) Soils can be classified into three main categories, including azonal soils, intrazonal soils and zonal soils. Zonal soils are defined as a soil which has experienced the maximum effect of climate and vegetation upon parent rock, assuming there are no extremes of weathering, relief or drainage. As zonal soils have experienced the maximum effect of climate and vegetation they are said to be mature, having distinct profiles and clear horizons. Examples of zonal soils are Podsols, Chernozems and Latosols, it should be noted that chernozems, however, do not have distinct horizons because of merging, possibly by the abundance of biota. As outlined earlier, there are also azonal and intrazonal categories, whereby an azonal soil is in contrast to a zonal soil, in that it occurs when soil-forming processes have had insufficient time to operate fully, and are therefore said to be immature, an example may be an alluvial soil produced when rivers flood. An intrazonal soil is where a soil, within any climatic belt, will vary with respect to local factors, such as parent rock for example a rendzina soil will develop on limestone regardless of climate or vegetation. ...read more.


The vegetation which needs to be present for a latosol is normally deciduous, which provides constant leaf fall, for such vegetation to develop effectively high annual temperatures are required varying between 27�C to 28�C, and rainfall up to 2000mm, these climatic characteristics allow the rapid growth of the abundant vegetation and the constant supply of leaf litter required to counterbalance the rapid efficiency of humification. As you can see climate is imperative in determining the vegetation medium for the formation of soils, here we see a clear relationship. Parent rock and weathering also have an affect on soil formation and are somewhat affected by climate. For example, just because a soil is surrounded by coniferous vegetation and the correct climatic conditions for the development of that vegetation, does not necessarily mean it will be a podsol; infact a podsol also requires a well drained parent rock, for example a coarse textured soil such as sandstone or quartzite, allowing the process of leaching. The parent rock needs to be broken down sufficiently to allow this free drainage; this is achieved by the process of weathering i.e. breaking down of the parent rock in situ. Weathering is achieved by mechanical weathering which relies on the freezing of water which relies on climate (temperature); chemical weathering which relies on water and solution which relies on water and solutions (precipitation); and biological weathering which relies on vegetation, which as explained above relies on climate. ...read more.


Organisms will aid in aeration of the soil and also the merging of horizons, which helps in incorporating intimate humus into the lower A and B horizons. Time for soils to develop and the rate of decomposition are also determinants in soil formation, and have a degree of relevance to climatic affect. Decomposition is achieved by decomposers which may include detrivores such woodlice and other macro-organisms; these organisms can only tolerate certain conditions, where the climate is too cold, such as the climate in a podsol, then these bacteria are restricted in their activity and thus breakdown is slow giving the podsol a low nutrient content. However, where temperatures are high and there is a copious amount of organic matter, then these decomposers and macro-organisms will breakdown rapidly as their activity increases; this can be seen by the low species diversity found in podsol soil locations and the extremely high species diversity observed in latosol soil locations such as tropical rainforests, hence it has been studied that rapid breakdown or humification is found in hot climates. In conclusion, it can be seen that climate is imperative in determining soil formation factors such as vegetation, humus and nutrient status, soil organisms, parent material and many more. However, we must remember that azonal soils are only formed under the assumption that there are no extremes of parent material, drainage and relief; if there were extremes climate would not have a maximum effect. ...read more.

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