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Soil Physics in Relation to Meteorology

Nature volume 130, page 469 (24 September 1932) | Download Citation



DR. B. A. KEEN, of the Bothamsted Experimental Station, discussed “Soil Physics in Relation to Meteorology” at the G. J. Symonds Memorial Lecture for 1932 of the Royal Meteorological Society (Q. J. Roy. Met. Soc., July). This new branch of physics has made it necessary to discard a number of generally accepted explanations of agricultural and horticultural matters connected with the soil. Russian work on soil classification has, for example, led to the recognition of certain soil groups as a basis for a survey of the soils of the whole world, and it is found that the type of soil formed in any place is dependent not so much upon the geology of the neighbourhood as upon certain meteorological factors, especially temperature and rainfall. Analysis of vertical sections of the soil, or soil ‘profiles’, shows unmistakably that the amount of percolation of rain water decides whether certain alkaline salts derived from the weathering of rocks shall be washed downwards or not, and it is because of their effect upon percolation that these two meteorological factors are so important. As an offset to this case of underestimation of meteorological influence, Dr. Keen cites a case of overestimation, the subject being the aeration of the soil. The point that had to be explained was how it comes about that the composition of the soil atmosphere is so nearly the same as that of ordinary air, in spite of the fact that most biological activity in the soil tends to absorb oxygen and evolve carbon dioxide. A critical examination of the different processes leading to gaseous exchange between the soil and the atmosphere points to ordinary gaseous diffusion as the principal agent of exchange, meteorological processes being too slow. The rate of diffusion, moreover, is dependent upon total pore space rather than upon the size of individual pores, which would appear to dispose of the idea that ‘heavy’ soils—those with the smallest particles—are necessarily the most badly aerated. Another important point made in the lecture is that water is not conveyed to the surface of the ground by capillary action from nearly such great depths as had at one time been supposed, from which it follows that the good effect of a surface mulch of loose soil or other material is often unconnected with the reduction of evaporation from the surface.

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