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Wilkes University
 Center for Environmental Quality
 Environmental Engineering  and
 Earth Sciences Department
 Laboratory Director

 

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http://staffweb.wilkes.edu/brian.oram/soilwatr.htm
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Description of Soil Moisture Regimes
according to USDA Soil Taxonomy
8th edition of Keys

"The term 'soil moisture regime' refers to the presence or absence either of ground water or of water held at a tension of less than 1500 kPa in the soil or in specific horizons during periods of the year. Water held at a tension of 1500 kPa or more is not available to keep most mesophytic plants alive. The availability of water is also affected by dissolved salts. If a soil is saturated with water that is too salty to be available to most plants, it is considered salty rather than dry. Consequently, a horizon is considered dry when the moisture tension is 1500 kPa or more and is considered moist if water is held at a tension of less than 1500 kPa but more than zero. A soil may be continuously moist in some or all horizons either throughout the year or for some part of the year. It may be either moist in winter and dry in summer or the reverse. In the Northern Hemisphere, summer refers to June, July, and August and winter refers to December, January, and February.

What is a Normal Year?

In the discussions that follow and throughout the keys, the term 'normal years' is used. A normal year is defined as a year that has plus or minus one standard deviation of the long-term mean annual precipitation. (Long-term refers to 30 years or more.) Also, the mean monthly precipitation during a normal year must be plus or minus one standard deviation of the long-term monthly precipitation for 8 of the 12 months. For the most part, normal years can be calculated from the mean annual precipitation. When catastrophic events occur during a year, however, the standard deviations of the monthly means should also be calculated. The term 'normal years' replaces the terms 'most years' and '6 out of 10 years', which were used in the 1975 edition of Soil Taxonomy (USDA, SCS, 1975).

What is this Control Section?

The intent in defining the soil moisture control section is to facilitate estimation of soil moisture regimes from climatic data. The upper boundary of this control section is the depth to which a dry (tension of more than 1500 kPa, but not air-dry) soil will be moistened by 2.5 cm of water within 24 hours. The lower boundary is the depth to which a dry soil will be moistened by 7.5 cm of water within 48 hours. These depths do not include the depth of moistening along any cracks or animal burrows that are open to the surface.

If 7.5 cm of water moistens the soil to a densic, lithic, paralithic, or petroferric contact or to a petrocalcic or petrogypsic horizon or a duripan, the contact or the upper boundary of the cemented horizon constitutes the lower boundary of the soil moisture control section. If a soil is moistened to one of these contacts or horizons by 2.5 cm of water, the soil moisture control section is the boundary or the contact itself. The control section of such a soil is considered moist if the contact or upper boundary of the cemented horizon has a thin film of water. If that upper boundary is dry, the control section is considered dry.

The moisture control section of a soil extends approximately (1) from 10 to 30 cm below the soil surface if the particle-size class of the soil is fine-loamy, coarse-silty, fine-silty, or clayey; (2) from 20 to 60 cm if the particle-size class is coarse-loamy; and (3) from 30 to 90 cm if the particle-size class is sandy. If the soil contains rock and pararock fragments that do not absorb and release water, the limits of the moisture control section are deeper. The limits of the soil moisture control section are affected not only by the particle-size class but also by differences in soil structure or pore-size distribution or by other factors that influence the movement and retention of water in the soil.

Soil Moisture Regime - Classes

The soil moisture regimes are defined in terms of the level of ground water and in terms of the seasonal presence or absence of water held at a tension of less than 1500 kPa in the moisture control section. It is assumed in the definitions that the soil supports whatever vegetation it is capable of supporting, i.e., crops, grass, or native vegetation, and that the amount of stored moisture is not being increased by irrigation or fallowing. These cultural practices affect the soil moisture conditions as long as they are continued.

Aquic moisture regime

The aquic (L. aqua, water) moisture regime is a reducing regime in a soil that is virtually free of dissolved oxygen because it is saturated by water. Some soils are saturated with water at times while dissolved oxygen is present, either because the water is moving or because the environment is unfavorable for micro-organisms (e.g., if the temperature is less than 1 C); such a regime is not considered aquic.

It is not known how long a soil must be saturated before it is said to have an aquic moisture regime, but the duration must be at least a few days, because it is implicit in the concept that dissolved oxygen is virtually absent. Because dissolved oxygen is removed from ground water by respiration of micro-organisms, roots, and soil fauna, it is also implicit in the concept that the soil temperature is above biologic zero for some time while the soil is saturated. Biologic zero is defined as 5 C in this taxonomy. In some of the very cold regions of the world, however, biological activity occurs at temperatures below 5 C.

Very commonly, the level of ground water fluctuates with the seasons; it is highest in the rainy season or in fall, winter, or spring if cold weather virtually stops evapotranspiration. There are soils, however, in which the ground water is always at or very close to the surface. Examples are soils in tidal marshes or in closed, landlocked depressions fed by perennial streams. Such soils are considered to have a peraquic moisture regime.

Aridic and torric (L. aridus, dry, and L. torridus, hot and dry) moisture regimes

These terms are used for the same moisture regime but in different categories of the taxonomy. In the aridic (torric) moisture regime, the moisture control section is, in normal years:

  1. Dry in all parts for more than half of the cumulative days per year when the soil temperature at a depth of 50 cm from the soil surface is above 5 C; and
  2. Moist in some or all parts for less than 90 consecutive days when the soil temperature at a depth of 50 cm is above 8 C.

Soils that have an aridic (torric) moisture regime normally occur in areas of arid climates. A few are in areas of semiarid climates and either have physical properties that keep them dry, such as a crusty surface that virtually precludes the infiltration of water, or are on steep slopes where runoff is high. There is little or no leaching in this moisture regime, and soluble salts accumulate in the soils if there is a source.

The limits set for soil temperature exclude from these moisture regimes soils in the very cold and dry polar regions and in areas at high elevations. Such soils are considered to have anhydrous conditions (defined earlier).

Udic moisture regime

The udic (L. udus, humid) moisture regime is one in which the soil moisture control section is not dry in any part for as long as 90 cumulative days in normal years. If the mean annual soil temperature is lower than 22 C and if the mean winter and mean summer soil temperatures at a depth of 50 cm from the soil surface differ by 6 C or more, the soil moisture control section, in normal years, is dry in all parts for less than 45 consecutive days in the 4 months following the summer solstice. In addition, the udic moisture regime requires, except for short periods, a three-phase system, solid-liquid-gas, in part or all of the soil moisture control section when the soil temperature is above 5 C.

The udic moisture regime is common to the soils of humid climates that have well distributed rainfall; have enough rain in summer so that the amount of stored moisture plus rainfall is approximately equal to, or exceeds, the amount of evapotranspiration; or have adequate winter rains to recharge the soils and cool, foggy summers, as in coastal areas. Water moves downward through the soils at some time in normal years.

In climates where precipitation exceeds evapotranspiration in all months of normal years, the moisture tension rarely reaches 100 kPa in the soil moisture control section, although there are occasional brief periods when some stored moisture is used. The water moves through the soil in all months when it is not frozen. Such an extremely wet moisture regime is called perudic (L. per, throughout in time, and L. udus, humid). In the names of most taxa, the formative element "ud" is used to indicate either a udic or a perudic regime; the formative element "per" is used in selected taxa.

Ustic moisture regime

The ustic (L. ustus, burnt; implying dryness) moisture regime is intermediate between the aridic regime and the udic regime. Its concept is one of moisture that is limited but is present at a time when conditions are suitable for plant growth. The concept of the ustic moisture regime is not applied to soils that have permafrost or a cryic soil temperature regime (defined below). If the mean annual soil temperature is 22 C or higher or if the mean summer and winter soil temperatures differ by less than 6 C at a depth of 50 cm below the soil surface, the soil moisture control section in areas of the ustic moisture regime is dry in some or all parts for 90 or more cumulative days in normal years. It is moist, however, in some part either for more than 180 cumulative days per year or for 90 or more consecutive days.

If the mean annual soil temperature is lower than 22 C and if the mean summer and winter soil temperatures differ by 6 C or more at a depth of 50 cm from the soil surface, the soil moisture control section in areas of the ustic moisture regime is dry in some or all parts for 90 or more cumulative days in normal years, but it is not dry in all parts for more than half of the cumulative days when the soil temperature at a depth of 50 cm is higher than 5 C. If in normal years the moisture control section is moist in all parts for 45 or more consecutive days in the 4 months following the winter solstice, the moisture control section is dry in all parts for less than 45 consecutive days in the 4 months following the summer solstice.

In tropical and subtropical regions that have a monsoon climate with either one or two dry seasons, summer and winter seasons have little meaning. In those regions the moisture regime is ustic if there is at least one rainy season of 3 months or more. In temperate regions of subhumid or semiarid climates, the rainy seasons are usually spring and summer or spring and fall, but never winter. Native plants are mostly annuals or plants that have a dormant period while the soil is dry.

Xeric moisture regime

The xeric (Gr. xeros, dry) moisture regime is the typical moisture regime in areas of Mediterranean climates, where winters are moist and cool and summers are warm and dry. The moisture, which falls during the winter, when potential evapotranspiration is at a minimum, is particularly effective for leaching. In areas of a xeric moisture regime, the soil moisture control section, in normal years, is dry in all parts for 45 or more consecutive days in the 4 months following the summer solstice and moist in all parts for 45 or more consecutive days in the 4 months following the winter solstice. Also, in normal years, the moisture control section is moist in some part for more than half of the cumulative days per year when the soil temperature at a depth of 50 cm from the soil surface is higher than 6 C or for 90 or more consecutive days when the soil temperature at a depth of 50 cm is higher than 8 C. The mean annual soil temperature is lower than 22 C, and the mean summer and mean winter soil temperatures differ by 6 C or more either at a depth of 50 cm from the soil surface or at a densic, lithic, or paralithic contact if shallower.

Resources

Newhall Simulation Model for estimating soil moisture- pdf
SOIL MOISTURE REGIMES (SMR) - pdf
Soil Keys to Taxomony Field Book - Version 2

Local Links
 

Soil Formation and Classifications
Soil Forming Factors
Soil Temperature Regimes
Soil Moisture Regimes
Soils Defined

Soil Science Training Opportunities


For More information about the Environmental Quality Center, please contact:

 Attn: Mr. Brian Oram, Professional Geologist (PG), Professional Soil Scientist
Laboratory Director
Wilkes University
Department of  Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences
PO Box 111
84 West South Street
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766

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