Photo courtesy of NEsoil
Globe courtesy of Tom Patterson
1. NEsoil power
point slideshow on soil formation
soils photo gallery
Photo courtesy of Tom Patterson
Swiss/French Paleontologist Louis
"father of modern
What is Eolian?
It is the name for any process that pertains to the activity
of the wind. Eolian processes are ver important in arid environments.
is a natural body occuring on the land that has horizons, or layers,
and can support rooted plants. The five factors in soil formation are
time, parent material, slope, biota(organic life), and climate. The
parent material can be glacial, volcanic, organic, loess or colluvium;
Massachusetts soil is formed from a glacial parent material.
Pyramide represents different concentrations of sand, silt and clay
and the names used to describe those soils.
Courtesy of the University of Massachusetts
State soil of Massachusetts: Paxton
Very deep, well drained soil formed in deeply compacted
glacial till consisting mostly of granite, gneiss and schist. Paxton
soils are found on the smooth convex sides andn top sides of hills
and drumlins. It is well suited for both agriculture and woodland but
not for development due to its slow permeability. (NEsoil)
by county. NEsoil
Soil Proflies Defined:
- A horizon - organic and mineral matter
- B horizon - transitional, altered mineral matter with less organics
- C horizon - altered bedrock (Parker)
Soil Geology - Formation and Characteristics
The soils of Massachusetts are the result of a recession
of the most recent glaciation, the Wisconsinan from the northern United
States and Canda. The soils consist of
The soil alive today in New England is the result
of millions of years of glacial history on earth.
- Throughout earth history, over 30 glacial ('ice-ages') periods have
- currently we live in an interglacial (between 'Ice-Ages') period
- 4 major ice advances and subsequent retreats/melts
have happened during the Pleistocene epoch (1.8 MYBP-8 KYBP)*
- It is helpful to remember how incomprehensibly immense the geologic
time scale is, and the rate at which change occurs
- From oldest to youngest these ages are the Nebraskan, Kansan, Illonoian,
of glacial/interglacial rhythm
The glaciation and recession of the Wisconsinan period formed
- The Wisconsinan advance covered all of New England, much of the
northern United States and almost all of Canada. This glaciation produced
today's Massachusetts soil and peaked 18,000 years ago
Photo courtesy of Tom Patterson
- It was over one mile thick in some places.
- The ice extended South because of a large mound of ice to the north.
- The slowly advancing ice sheet plowed up soil and carried it long
- Rock outcrops were polished and smoothed, hills softened and valleys
were filled with ice
- As the advancing ide sheet absorbed ocean water, considerable amounts
of continental shelf were exposed. (Patterson)
- 1000 years after peaking, the ice-sheet suddenly began to retreat.
- It moved at a rate of 100's to 1000's of meters/year, receding from
Ohio to the Hudson Bay (2000 km) in less than 1000 years. (Patterson)
- Glacial sheets broke off upon contact with the ocean
- Melting created a rapid change in global sea level that slowed 8,000
- Terrestial animals and plants advanced North to fill to the void
of the glacier in conjunction with soil development.
- Marine organisms migrated north as waters warmed and currents changed.
- The maximum temperature of the Holocene was reached between 5,000
and 6,000 YBP.
- The Wisconsinan glaciation lingered in Canda and finally melted
by 6,000 YBP. (USGS)
Glacial melt from present-day Northern-Canadian mountains.
Photo Courtesy of Tom Patterson
were glaciers discovered?
many societies may have observed similar phenomena, Swis peasants
observed boulders in their pastures fallen from the Alps (erratics)
and deduced that the mountains had once been much larger due to this
movement. They also observed the similarity between bedrock knobs
of valley walls and ones emerging from the melting ice of existing
- Swiss Geologist Louis Agassiz made early observations of the North-Central
and North-East United States. He noticed smooth rock outcrops, rounded
hills, valleys choked by sand and gravel-- all signs of deposition
from glacial melt waters. (USGS)
Soil, landforms, vegetables
Glacial deposits and landforms
Massachusetts is almost entirely glacial till and glacial outwash. Map
courtesy of NEsoil
What is glacial till?
Glacial till is unsorted and stratified material depostied beneath and
within glacial ice done by the ice itself. It is the oldest surficial
deposit. There are two types, basal and ablation:
- basal - has a dense restrictive layer which impedes water
- ablation - deposited on the land by melting ice. Less compact
than basal till.
Glacial till in Massachusetts. Note the larger elements mixed with smaller
sediment. Photo courtesy of NEsoil.
Drumlin: a smooth, elongate, oval-shaped hill or mound
of compacted glacial till. The long axis of the hill is paralell to
the direction of the glacial flow.
A Massachusetts drumlin located on Paxton soil. Photo courtesy of
Drumlins of Canada--note the uniform direction of glacial movement.
Photo courtesy of Tom Patterson
What is glacial outwash?
Glacial outwash is sediment deposited by glacial meltwater consisting
of stratified layers of sand and gravel sized particles. It is often
associated with aquifers (groundwater areas).
landform which results: esker
An Esker is a narrow, winding ridge of stratified gravel and sand
deposited by a stream flowing beneath a glacier. (NEsoil)
And, what is a glacial lacustrine/marine deposit?
Glacial lacustrine is a fine textured sediment depostied in a glacial
lake during glacial recession. Glacial lacustrine deposits have poor
drainage and hold substantial amounts of water. These deposits can be
well-suited for agriculture due to its water retention capacity.
The departure of the Wisconsinan Ice-Age left behind
the geologic features and soil composition that characterizes New England
and Massachusetts today.
- After the glacier left, winds deposited sand-to-silt-sized particles
in addition to the above processes.
- Unconsolidated glacial deposits were greatly weathered and created
- Most upland soils in New England have a thin (18-36 inches) eolian
cap which deepened rapidly after the ice left. (NEsoil)
- On average, Massachusetts recieves about 40 inches/year of rainfall
- There are 53 identified soil types in Massachusetts
Soil Series Information
- The soils of Massachusetts vary widely; from dense glacial till,
loamy ablation till, coarse sand formed in outwash plains, sandy glacial
fluvial deposits, loamy wind-blown deposits, gravelly fluvial deposits,
excessiively-drained glacial outwash and till derived from granite,
gneiss and schists
- Land relief and biota vary widely throughout the state of Massachusetts;
from drumlins, to lake sediments, to mountaneous areas, to soils bordering
Three examples of county soils
1. Barnstable County- (Cape Cod-coastal peninsula, South Shore) glacial
outwash, plains are the most common landform. Soils are overwhelmingly
sandly loam or coarse sand.
2. Essex County- (North Shore) Soil almost entirely sandy or silty loam.
3. Norfolk and Suffolk counties- (Central, Boston Area) Soils mostly
sandy or silty loam or beach.
Vegetables and other phenomena
How did the recession of the Wisconsinan glacier affect human
- Over a few thousand years the vegetation in New England and Northern
Canada changed from tundra to woodland to closed forest.
- A diversity of human colonies existed between 13,000 YBP and 11,000
- Human artifacts suggest that large mammals were hunted prior to
a late-Pleistocene extinction of the 'megafauna' (Bonnichsen, 151)
- From 14,000 YBP to 13,000 YBP Massachusetts became free of ice
- Evidence suggests that humans switched from hunting large mammals
to hunting caribou with more sepcialized tools are the 'megafauna'
What is done with the
- About 10.5% of Massachusetts
5 million acres of total land is farmland
- Almost half of the farmland
is used as cropland- including federal farm land, conservation reserve
land, pasture and irrigated land.
- The average farm size
is 100 acres
- Cranberries from Massachusetts
provide 30% of the U.S. value(ClassBrain)
- The geologic processes
of the last glaciation have allowed humans to develop more settlements,
houses, urban areas, etc. in addition to growing vegetables and fruits,
raising animals, and reserving land as 'undisturbed.'
- The Wisconsinan Ice-Age
has allowed people such as Henry David Thoreau, Samuel Adams, John
Hancock, John F. Kennedy, William Lloyd Garrison, Louisa May Alcott,
E.E. Cummings, Emily Dickinson, the author of this page, and many
others to do the work that they do in the land of Massachusetts.
KY- Thousand Years
BP- Before Present
YBP- Years Before Present
American Farm Bureau- http://www.fb.org/today/class/mafb.html
"The environmental setting for human colonization
of northern New England and adjacent Canada in Late Pleistocene time."
Bonnichsen, Robson, Jacobson, George L., Jr., Davis, Ronald B., and
Borns, Harold W., Jr. (from Late Pleistocene History of Northeastern
New England and Adjacent Quebec,
Borns, Jr., Pierre LaSelle, and Woodrow B. Thompson, eds. Special Paper
Interglacial-Glacial Transition in North America: Introduction"
Clark, Peter U.(from The Last Interglacial-Glacial Transition in
North America. Special Paper 270, USGS, 1992)
Author: Benjamin Jaffe
Creation/revision date: April 12, 2005