It has been discussed earlier that soil is formed by the process of physical and chemical
weathering. The individual size of the constituent parts of even the weathered rock might range
from the smallest state (colloidal) to the largest possible (boulders). This implies that all the
weathered constituents of a parent rock cannot be termed soil. According to their grain size, soil particles are classified as cobbles, gravel, sand, silt and clay. Grains having diameters in the range
of 4.75 to 76.2 mm are called gravel. If the grains are visible to the naked eye, but are less than
about 4.75 mm in size the soil is described as sand. The lower limit of visibility of grains for the
naked eyes is about 0.075 mm. Soil grains ranging from 0.075 to 0.002 mm are termed as silt and
those that are finer than 0.002 mm as clay. This classification is purely based on size which does
not indicate the properties of fine grained materials.
Residual and Transported Soils
On the basis of origin of their constituents, soils can be divided into two large groups:
- Residual soils, and
- Transported soils.
Residual soils are those that remain at the place of their formation as a result of the
weathering of parent rocks. The depth of residual soils depends primarily on climatic conditions
and the time of exposure. In some areas, this depth might be considerable. In temperate zones
residual soils are commonly stiff and stable. An important characteristic of residual soil is that the
sizes of grains are indefinite. For example, when a residual sample is sieved, the amount passing
any given sieve size depends greatly on the time and energy expended in shaking, because of the
partially disintegrated condition.
Transported soils are soils that are found at locations far removed from their place of
formation. The transporting agencies of such soils are glaciers, wind and water. The soils are named
according to the mode of transportation. Alluvial soils are those that have been transported by
running water. The soils that have been deposited in quiet lakes, are lacustrine soils. Marine soils
are those deposited in sea water. The soils transported and deposited by wind are aeolian soils.
Those deposited primarily through the action of gravitational force, as in land slides, are colluvial
soils. Glacial soils are those deposited by glaciers. Many of these transported soils are loose and
soft to a depth of several hundred feet. Therefore, difficulties with foundations and other types of
construction are generally associated with transported soils.
Organic and Inorganic Soils
Soils in general are further classified as organic or inorganic. Soils of organic origin are chiefly
formed either by growth and subsequent decay of plants such as peat, or by the accumulation of
fragments of the inorganic skeletons or shells of organisms. Hence a soil of organic origin can be
either organic or inorganic. The term organic soil ordinarily refers to a transported soil consisting of
the products of rock weathering with a more or less conspicuous admixture of decayed vegetable
Names of Some Soils that are Generally Used in Practice
Bentonite is a clay formed by the decomposition of volcanic ash with a high content of
montmorillonite. It exhibits the properties of clay to an extreme degree.
Varved Clays consist of thin alternating layers of silt and fat clays of glacial origin. They possess
the undesirable properties of both silt and clay. The constituents of varved clays were transported
into fresh water lakes by the melted ice at the close of the ice age.
Kaolin, China Clay are very pure forms of white clay used in the ceramic industry.
Boulder Clay is a mixture of an unstratified sedimented deposit of glacial clay, containing
unsorted rock fragments of all sizes ranging from boulders, cobbles, and gravel to finely pulverized
Calcareous Soil is a soil containing calcium carbonate. Such soil effervesces when tested with
weak hydrochloric acid.
Marl consists of a mixture of calcareous sands, clays, or loam.
Hardpan is a relatively hard, densely cemented soil layer, like rock which does not soften when
wet. Boulder clays or glacial till is also sometimes named as hardpan.
Caliche is an admixture of clay, sand, and gravel cemented by calcium carbonate deposited from
Peat is a fibrous aggregate of finer fragments of decayed vegetable matter. Peat is very
compressible and one should be cautious when using it for supporting foundations of structures.
Loam is a mixture of sand, silt and clay.
Loess is a fine-grained, air-borne deposit characterized by a very uniform grain size, and high void
ratio. The size of particles ranges between about 0.01 to 0.05 mm. The soil can stand deep vertical
cuts because of slight cementation between particles. It is formed in dry continental regions and its
color is yellowish light brown.
Shale is a material in the state of transition from clay to slate. Shale itself is sometimes considered
a rock but, when it is exposed to the air or has a chance to take in water it may rapidly decompose.