# Soil Particle Density Protocol

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1 Soil Particle Density Protocol Purpose To measure the soil particle density of each horizon in a soil profile Overview Students weigh a sample of dry, sieved soil from a horizon, mix it with distilled water and then boil the mixture to remove any air. The mixture cools for a day and then students add water until the volume of the mixture is 100 ml. Students measure the temperature and mass of the final mixture and use the Soil Particle Density Data Sheet to calculate the soil particle density. Three samples should be measured for each horizon. Student Outcomes Students will be able to apply laboratory tests for particle density to soil samples. Students will be able to calculate soil particle density and porosity using mathematical formulas. Students will be able to relate soil particle density to bulk density and porosity. Science Concepts Earth and Space Sciences Earth materials are solid rocks, soil, water, biota, and the gases of the atmosphere. Soils have properties of color, texture, structure, consistence, density, ph, fertility; they support the growth of many types of plants. Soils consist of minerals (less than 2 mm), organic material, air, and water. Physical Sciences Objects have observable properties. Scientific Inquiry Abilities Identify answerable questions. Design and conduct an investigation. Use appropriate tools and techniques including mathematics to gather, analyze, and interpret data. Develop descriptions and explanations, predictions and models using evidence. Communicate procedures and explanations. Time Two 45-minute class periods Level Middle and Secondary Frequency Three times for each horizon in a soil profile Collected and prepared soil samples can be stored for study and analyses at any time during the school year. Materials and Tools Oven-dried, sieved soil 100-ml volumetric or Erlenmeyer flask(s) with cap(s) or stopper(s) Distilled water Pencil or pen Small funnel Thermometer Balance accurate to within 0.1 g Squirt bottle for washing soil out of beaker Hot plate or Bunsen burner or other heat source Oven mitts or tongs Soil Particle Density Data Sheet Preparation Dry and sieve soil samples; store them in sealed containers. Collect required equipment. Calibrate the balance to 0.1 g. Prerequisites Soil Characterization Protocol Welcome Introduction Protocols Learning Activities Appendix GLOBE 2005 Soil Particle Density Protocol - 1 Soil

2 Soil Particle Density Protocol Introduction The particle density of a soil measures the mass of a soil sample in a given volume of particles (mass divided by volume). Particle density focuses on just the soil particles and not the total volume that the soil particles and pore spaces occupy in the soil. Particle density differs from bulk density because bulk density includes the volume of the solid (mineral and organic) portion of the soil along with the spaces where air and water are found. The density of soil particles is a result of the chemical composition and structure of the minerals in the soil. See Figure SO-DE-1. Particle density data are used to better understand the physical and chemical properties of the soil. For example, the particle density indicates the relative amounts of organic matter and mineral particles in a soil sample. The chemical composition and structure of minerals in a soil sample can be deduced by comparing the soil s particle density to the known densities of minerals such as quartz, feldspar, micas, magnetite, garnet, or zircon. Particle density data are also used with bulk density data to calculate the pore space (porosity) occupied by air and water in a soil sample. With this knowledge about the properties of a soil, students and scientists gain a better understanding of the soil s function within the ecosystem of an area and can better interpret soil moisture measurements. Figure SO-DE-1 Volume for Bulk Density Mixture of air, water, minerals and organic matter Volume for Particle Density Pore Space Solids GLOBE 2005 Soil Particle Density Protocol - 2 Soil

3 Teacher Support Preparation Have students conduct the Bulk Density Protocol in order to gain a better understanding of density as a measure of the amount of mass in a given volume. Students also need to measure bulk density in order to calculate soil porosity. Measurement Procedures To calculate soil particle density, students measure the mass and the volume of only the solid particles in a soil sample, not the air and water found within the pore spaces between the particles. Students carry out this measurement by putting a soil sample in a flask with distilled water. The soil/water mixture is boiled to remove all air from the sample. After the mixture has cooled, water is added to the mixture to obtain a specified volume. The mass of this mixture is then measured. The mass of the water is then subtracted from the mass of the soil and water. The particle density is calculated from the mass of the solid particles in a specified volume. Safety Precautions Students need to know how to safely use Bunsen burners or other heating elements for boiling the soil/water mixtures. Students should practice using tongs or oven mitts to lift the volumetric or Erlenmeyer flasks that hold the soil/water mixtures. Students can boil practice mixtures of soil and water to ensure they do not let the actual soil samples boil over. Supporting Activities Have students compare their soil characterization data with soil particle density data to see if they can correlate the horizons physical and chemical properties with their soil particle densities. Questions for Further Investigation What natural changes could alter the particle density of a horizon? How does parent material affect the particle density of a horizon? How does particle density affect soil temperature? What is the relationship between particle density and plant growth? How can particle density affect the way water moves through the soil? Does particle density relate to soil color? If so, how? Does particle density relate to the presence of carbonates? If so, how? How does particle density relate to the uses of a soil? Does particle density relate to particle size distribution? If so, how? Welcome Introduction Protocols Learning Activities Appendix GLOBE 2005 Soil Particle Density Protocol - 3 Soil

4 Soil Particle Density Lab Guide Task To measure the particle density of a soil sample What You Need Oven-dried, sieved soil Distilled water Small funnel Balance accurate to 0.1 g Squirt bottle Oven mitts or tongs Three 100 ml volumetric or Erlenmeyer flasks with caps or stoppers Pencil or pen Thermometer Squirt bottle for washing soil out of beaker Hot plate or Bunsen burner or other heatsource Soil Particle Density Data Sheet In the Lab 1. Place distilled water in squirt bottle. 2. At the top of the Data Sheet, note the length of time since the soil was dried in an oven, and how the soil has been stored (e.g. in plastic bag, air tight container, other). 3. Measure the mass of the empty flask without its cap. Record the mass on the Soil Particle Density Data Sheet. 4. Measure 25 g of dried, sieved soil. Place soil in the flask using the funnel. Since it is important to have all 25 g of soil in the flask, be careful to transfer all the soil into the flask and not to spill any soil outside the flask (Note: if soil is spilled outside the flask, repeat this step with another 25 g sample). 5. Measure the mass of the flask containing the soil (without the stopper/cap). Record the mass on the Soil Particle Density Data Sheet. GLOBE 2005 Soil Particle Density Protocol- 4 Soil

6 Particle Density Protocol Looking at the Data Are the data reasonable? Typical particle densities for soils range from 2.60 to 2.75 g/cm 3 for mineral particles. However, they can be as high as 3.0 g/cm 3 for very dense particles and as low as 0.9 g/cm 3 for organic particles. In order to calculate the soil particle density for your sample, use the information from the Soil Particle Density Data Sheet and follow the steps given in the Calculation Work Sheet. What do scientists look for in these data? Particle density measurements provide information about the kinds of material present in a soil. If the particle density is high, we know that the parent material of the soil consists of minerals that have a high density. This information provides insight into the geologic history of the soil. A low particle density (<1.0 g/cm 3 ) indicates high organic matter content. It also provides information about the potential release of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere as the organic matter decomposes over time. Scientists are also interested in knowing how much space is in the soil (porosity). This information tells them how much air and water can be stored in the soil profile. It also tells them the rate at which air, water and heat will move through the soil profile. By knowing this they can better understand the behavior of the soil, predict flooding, verify the types of life the soil can support, identify how the soil may change, and determine how the soil may be best used for human activities. Calculating Soil Porosity The amount of pore space, or porosity, of the soil is calculated according to the following equation: Bulk Density Porosity = 1 x 100% (Particle Density Bulk Density = mass of dry soil / total volume of soil and air (g/cm 3 ) Particle Density = mass of dry soil / volume of soil particles only (air removed) (g/cm 3 ) Bulk Density Volume of dry soil = Particle Density Volume of dry soil and pore space This value will always be less than or equal to 1. So the value (1 - Bulk Density/Particle Density) will be between 0 and 1. This value is then multiplied by 100 to calculate the percent porosity. For example, students take three soil samples for bulk density and soil particle density for each horizon at the soil pit at their Land Cover Sample Site. After performing the Bulk Density and Soil Particle Density Protocols, they determine: Bulk Density: Mass of dry soil = 395 g Total soil volume = 300 cm 3 Bulk density (mass of dry soil/total soil volume): 395 g/300 cm 3 = 1.32 g/cm 3 Particle Density: Mass of dry soil = 25.1 g Volume of dry soil = 9.5 ml (cm 3 ) To calculate particle density (mass of dry soil/volume of particles only): 25.1 g/9.5 cm 3 = 2.64 g/cm 3 ( Porosity: Using these values in the equation for porosity: Bulk Density Porosity = 1 x 100% (Particle Density x 100% = 50% (2.64 GLOBE 2005 Soil Particle Density Protocol - 6 Soil ( (

7 Figure SO-DE-2: A Good Soil for Most Plant Growth Pore Space 50% Solids 50% Air 25% Water 25% Organic Matter 5% Minerals 45% Thus, 50% of the total soil is pore space. The pore space at this site may be filled by either air or water or a combination of both. A good soil for growing most plants contains about 50% pore space and 50% solids. The pore space should be filled half with air and half with water, and the solids should be a mixture of minerals with some organic matter. See Figure SO-DE-2. In some cases, certain plants, such as rice or wetland species, require much more water than air in the soil pore spaces in order to grow properly. For other uses of the soil, such as for building roads or foundations, the soil should have much more air than water occupying its pore spaces. While the porosity reveals the amount of total pore space the soil has, it does not tell exactly how much air or water is in the soil at a given time. The amount of water in the soil is determined through the methods of the Soil Moisture Protocol. The total pore space can be determined and the amount of that space occupied by air and water becomes known. This information determines how well plants will grow, whether the soil is dry or saturated, and what is the best plan for managing that particular soil. How saturated is a soil? The Soil Moisture Protocol measures Soil Water Content (SWC) as the ratio of the mass of water to the mass of dry soil in a sample. Knowing the soil particle density, the bulk density, and the density of water, the ratio of the volume of water to the volume of soil may be calculated along with the percentage of the pore space filled with water. Welcome Introduction Protocols Volume of Water (ml) Volume of Soil (ml) = Soil Water Content (g/g) x Bulk Density (g/cm 3 ) Density of Water (g/cm 3 ) Volume of Pore Space (ml) = Porosity x Volume of Soil (ml) Volume of Water (ml) Volume of Pore Space (ml) Soil Water Content (g/g) = x Porosity Bulk Density (g/cm 3 ) Density of Water (g/cm 3 ) So, if SWC = 0.20 g/g, Bulk Density = 1.32 g/cm 3, Density of Water = 1.00 g/cm 3, and Porosity = 0.50 (50%), then Percentage of Pores Filled with Water = Volume of Water Volume of Pore Space 0.20 g/g 1.32 (g/cm 3 ) = x x (g/cm 3 ) 100 = 52.8% Learning Activities Appendix GLOBE 2005 Soil Particle Density Protocol - 7 Soil

8 Examples of Student Research Investigations Students from the Grassland School in Illinois, USA, wanted to determine the amount of water their soil held. They were concerned about flooding during the approaching rainy season. They characterized the soil at their school and took samples from four horizons to a depth of 100 cm. They knew that if they calculated both the particle density and bulk density of each horizon, they could determine the porosity of the soil. Knowing the porosity of the soil would allow the students to know how much space each horizon had to hold water. For each of the horizons, the students determined the particle density and bulk density following the GLOBE protocols. Soil Characterization data for each of the four horizons the students studied is given in Table SO-DE-1. Table SO-DE-2 shows how the students determined the Particle Density of the soil in Horizon 1. Table SO-DE-1 Horizon # Top depth Bottom Depth Thickness (cm) Texture Main Color (cm) (cm) (bottom-top depth) (by feel) Silt loam 10YR 2/ Silty clay loam 10YR 6/ Silty clay 7.5YR 5/ Clay 7.5YR 6/8 Horizon # Structure Consistence Roots Rocks Bulk Density (mean) 1 granular Friable Many None blocky Friable Few None blocky Firm Few Few blocky Firm None Few 1.1 Table SO-DE-2 Horizon 1 Sample Number A Mass of soil + empty flask (g) B Mass of empty flask (g) C Mass of soil (g) (A B) D Mass of water + soil +flask (g) E Mass of water (D A) F Water Temperature ( C) G Density of water (g/ml) (approximately 1.0) H Volume of water (ml) (E/G) I Volume of soil (ml) (100 ml H) J Soil particle density (g/ml) (C/I) Mean of Particle Density of Horizon (from 3 Replicates) 2.0 g/ml GLOBE 2005 Soil Particle Density Protocol - 8 Soil

9 The students used the same method to calculate particle density values for the other three horizons. The results (based on the mean of three replicates for each horizon) were: Horizon 1: 2.0 g/ml Horizon 2: 2.6 g/ml Horizon 3: 2.5 g/ml Horizon 4: 2.5 g/ml The students noticed that there were differences in the particle density values for the four horizons. The biggest difference was in the first horizon, which had the lowest particle density value. They investigated their soil characterization data for clues as to why the particle density of the first horizon was lower than the others. They noticed that the color of the first horizon was much darker than the others, indicating that this horizon had a higher organic matter content. The structure of the soil in the first horizon was granular while in the Table SO-DE-3 other horizons it was blocky. Granular structures are common in soils where roots are abundant. The students had observed many roots in the first horizon as well. The first horizon also had a friable consistence and a lower bulk density than the other horizons. These properties allow roots to spread easily throughout this horizon. The students hypothesized that the lower particle density value they found in Horizon 1 was the result of the roots at this depth in the soil. With this information, the students decided to calculate the porosity of each of the soil horizons. Using the mean values for particle density and bulk density, they calculated the porosity using the following equation: Bulk Density Porosity = 1 x 100% (Particle Density Their results for porosity of each of the four horizons are given in Table SO-DE-3. Horizon Bulk Density (BD) Particle Density (PD) BD/PD 1- BD/PD Porosity % % % % ( Welcome Introduction Protocols Learning Activities Appendix GLOBE 2005 Soil Particle Density Protocol - 9 Soil

10 After examining these data, the students could see that the first soil horizon, with its high organic matter content, was more porous than the lower horizons that consisted mainly of minerals. The lowest horizon, which had no roots, also had a relatively high porosity value. The students hypothesis was that this horizon had small pores between each of its particles. They deduced this from their texture measurement of this horizon that indicated it was clay. The students also reasoned that because there is more pore space in Horizons 1 and 4, these horizons have the capacity to hold more rainwater than Horizons 2 and 3. To test this hypothesis, they decided to determine the soil water content according to the Soil Moisture Protocol. They would then determine the bulk density and thickness of each horizon to convert from mass to volume, and calculate the amount of rain that would be needed to saturate the soil profile. GLOBE 2005 Soil Particle Density Protocol - 10 Soil

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