The Critical Zone

Soil Surveys and Maps and Land-Use Planning


Different soil types are variably distributed across Earth's continents, dependent upon the varying relative influence of the state factors of soil formation. These varying soil types are recognized by the characteristics you studied when considering soil description and classification. The various soil types are mappable units; that is, they exist as coherent bodies of similar soil material which eventually merge laterally with other soil types, bedrock, or unaltered sediment. The process by which the distribution of the different soil types are mapped in the field is called soil surveying or soil mapping.

The term "soil survey" is also used to describe the published results of soil mapping efforts. Typically these published reports include information about slope, permeability, and drainage characteristics, to name a few and are therefore very important reference manuals in land-use planning and decision making. In the United States, we are fortunate to have a Federal agency which oversees soil mapping, currently named the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).



For this assignment, you will need to record your work on a word processing document. Your work must be submitted in Word (.doc) or PDF (.pdf) format so I can open it. In addition, documents must be double-spaced and typed in 12 point Times Roman font.


  1. Visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Web site and learn about the various purposes of the National Cooperative Soil Survey.
  2. Visit the NRCS Web Soil Survey Web site to better understand the availability of soil maps for your region.
  3. Assess the soil types on your school property or some other nearby accessible site:
    • Follow the three simple steps at Web Soil Survey to locate a study site and obtain a soil map of the site.
    • Download the soil map and legend for inclusion in a short report to me.
    • Address the following questions in your report:
      • What is the dominant soil type at your study site?
      • Are there any characteristics of this soil that affect land use and is the effect positive or negative?
      • Does your state soil exist at the study site? If not, locate the closest site where your state soil is mapped.
      • Are there any soil exposures on your school property or nearby? (This will require a walk!) If so, what soil type is exposed? If not, where is the closest soil exposure to your study site? Include a photograph of the soil exposure.
      • Briefly describe the importance of the state factors in the formation of the dominant soil at your study site. Compare/contrast your study soil to your state soil.
  4. Save your report as either a Microsoft Word or PDF file in the following format:

    L2_soilsurvey_AccessAccountID_LastName.doc (or .pdf).

    For example, student Elvis Aaron Presley's file would be named "L2_soilsurvey_eap1_presley.doc"—this naming convention is important, as it will help me make sure I match each submission up with the right student!

Submitting your work

  • Submit your report to the Lesson 2 - Soil Survey dropbox in Canvas by the due date indicated on our Canvas calendar. (See the Modules tab in Canvas for the Dropbox).

Grading criteria

You will be graded on the quality of your writing. You should not simply write responses to the questions and submit them to me. Instead plan on writing a short stand-alone paragraph (or page or whatever you decide is necessary considering any constraints I might have placed on you) so that anyone can read what you've written and understood it. You should strive to be specific and complete in responding to the questions. Your answers should be analytic, thoughtful and insightful, and should provide an insightful connection between ideas. The writing should be tight and crisp with varied sentence structure and a serious, professional tone.