3.6 - How Parent Material Affects Soil Profile Development
Parent material, from which soil develops, comes from many different sources. This is due to the fact that parent material is not static. Soils form in parent material that is not just bedrock weathered in place. Parent material is classified based on its mode of transportation: ice, water, gravity, wind, lakes and oceans, or in place.
Parent Material Deposited by Ice
Parent material transported by ice is known as glacial till. This parent material is found where glaciers have deposited material, such as in terminal moraines or lateral moraines. Ice itself is a poor sorter of soil particles. The force carrying particles is able to carry particles of all sizes the same distance. Thus this parent material contains everything from the smallest clay-sized fraction to rocks, pebbles, and boulders.
Parent Material Deposited by Water
Water is a good sorter of soil particles. Larger particles (i.e., sand) settle out of water first because they are heavier and require more energy to carry them. Smaller particles (i.e., clay) settle out of water last because they are lighter and can be carried greater distances. Larger, sand-sized fractions are found closer to the water source and clay-sized fractions further away. Parent material transported by flowing water (streams and rivers) is called alluvium. In addition, parent material formed from water flowing from glaciers is known as outwash or glacial outwash.
Parent Material Deposited by Gravity
Material transported due to gravity is known as colluvium. Gravity is a poor sorter of particles, and thus soils which develop at the base of mountains, for example, contain particles from clays through rocks, pebbles, and boulders.
Parent Material Deposited by Wind
Parent material transported by wind has many names. The most common names are loess or aeolian. Parent material transported from volcanic eruptions is called tephra; it can be carried great distances by wind after being spewed from a volcano. Wind is a good sorter of soil particles. Heavy particles, such as sands, tend to bounce across the landscape surface. Clays tend to clump together and act as larger particles. The silt-sized fraction tends to become suspended in wind and transported great distances. Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, U.S.A. is a classic example of aeolian sands.
Parent Material Deposited by Lakes and Oceans
The terms lacustrine and marine classify parent material transported by lakes or the ocean. Again, this is water acting on parent material, and thus there is a high degree of particle sorting. Lacustrine and marine deposits sometimes have visible horizontal layers present, which indicate settling material deposition.
Parent Material Formed in Place
Finally, parent material weathered in place is called either residual or residuum. The degree of sorting is low because no other factors have influenced its movement.
|Types of Parent Material|
|Mode of Transportation||Type of Parent Material||Degree of Sorting by Particle Size|
|Flowing Water||Alluvium; Outwash||Medium - High|
|Wind||Tephra; Loess; Aeolian||High|
|In Place (non-transported)||Residual (residuum)||Low|
Open the Parent Material and Soil Formation slideshow to learn about parent material weathering. The slideshow is interactive with back and return buttons on the slides if you download the slideshow.