Porosity or pore space refers to the volume of soil voids that can be filled by water and/or air. It is inversely related to bulk density. Porosity is calculated as a percentage of the soil volume:
Bulk density x 100 = % solid space Particle density
100% – % Solid Space = Percent Pore Space
Loose, porous soils have lower bulk densities and greater porosities than tightly packed soils. Porosity varies depending on particle size and aggregation. It is greater in clayey and organic soils than in sandy soils. A large number of small particles in a volume of soil produces a large number of soil pores. Fewer large particles can occupy the same volume of soil so there are fewer pores and less porosity.
Compaction decreases porosity as bulk density increases. If compaction increases bulk density from 1.3 to 1.5 g/cm3, porosity decreases from 50 percent to 43 percent. Aggregation also decreases porosity because more large pores are present as compared to single clay and silt particles that are associated with smaller pores.
Pores of all sizes and shapes combine to make up the total porosity of a soil. Porosity, however, does not tell us anything about the size of pores.