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Home > Alberta's Resource Inventory > Soil and Agriculture > Agriculture Today > Soil Formation

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Soil Formation

Sandy SoilSoil development involves many physical, chemical and biological factors acting over time on materials, such as rock, gravel and sand. This process is influenced by topographic features, like degree of slope, and the presence and actions of water. Climatic factors, such as precipitation, relative humidity, temperature and solar radiation, also influence soil formation. For example, cooler temperatures are less ideal for soil formation because they slow the rate at which humus accumulates and decomposes. That is why there are thinner topsoils and fewer available plant nutrients in the soils of the mountains and in northern Alberta. Soils that receive little moisture, such as sandy areas, can only support specially adapted plants.

The combined effects of the various factors that influence soil formation produce many different types of soils. Soils formed on shale, sandstone, or ground-up rocks and minerals left by glaciers are called mineral soils. Soils developed in organic materials like peat are called organic soils.

Two general processes dominate mineral soil development in Alberta: calcification and acid leaching.

Department of the Environment. State of the Environment Report, Terrestrial Ecosystems. Edmonton: n.p., 2001. With permission from Alberta Environment.

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