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SOIL BULK DENSITY

Soil bulk density g / cm


3
) is defned as the mass per unit bulk volume of
soil that has been dried to a constant weight at 105 OC. The volume
includes all pore space as well as space occupied by soil solids.
Since fne-textured soils generally have more total pore space than
coarse-textured soils, the fner soils also generally have lower bul
densities. !ul density values o" fne-textured soils commonly range "rom
#.$ to #.3 g / cm
3
, while those o" sandy soils range "rom about #.3 to #.% g
/ cm
3
. &espite this general di'erence in bul density between sandy and
clayey soils, sandy soils are re"erred to as (light) and clayey soils as
(heavy). This terminology re"ers to relative ease o" tillage, not typical
bul densities.
Soil compaction, due to tra*c "rom machinery or livestoc or due to
natural processes, decreases soil pore space and, there"ore, increases
bul density.
Since clay particles are plate-lie, clay soils can be readily compressed
and molded. Such compressibility, together with the low bul density o"
clay soils, allows "or substantial increases in bul density when clay soils
are compacted.
+n contrast, sand grains cannot be molded together. Thus, compaction o"
sandy soils with relatively small porosities does not lead to as great o"
increase in bul density as occurs when clay soils are compacted.
,lthough fne-textured soils generally have lower bul densities than
coarse-textured soils, the opposite can be true in compacted soils.
,ccumulation o" organic matter in soil lowers bul density in two ways.
-irst, the particle density o" organic matter is much less than those
mineral particles. Secondly, and more importantly, organic matter
promotes the "ormation and stabili.ation o" soil aggregates.

&ue to inter aggregate pore space the porosity o" well-aggregated soil is
greater than that o" a poorly aggregated soil.
,ccordingly, bul density is lower. +n general, bul density is determined
by soil texture and modifed by soil structure. /ithin any textural class a
certain range in bul density is expected and whether, within this range,
bul density is relatively low or high depends on the degree o" structural
development. /hereas texture is not a'ected by soil management, soil
structure is a "ragile property that can deteriorate with intensive
cultivation, exposure to raindrops and machinery tra*c.
!ul density depends on the soil particles densities such as sand, silt, clay
and organic matter and their pacing arrangement.
ulk density values are re!uired for converting gravimetric soil water
content to volumetric and to calculate soil porosity which is the amount
pore space in the soil.
"esearchers often need a bulk density value to use in models#
characteri$e feld conditions# or convert to volumetric measurements.
Soil bulk density is a basic soil property in%uenced by some soil physical
and chemical properties. ulk density is a dynamic property that varies
with the structural condition of the soil. &his condition can be altered by
cultivation# trampling by animals# agricultural machinery# weather# i.e.
raindrop impact. 'nowledge of soil bulk density is essential for soil
management# and information on the soil bulk density of soils is important
in soil compaction and structure degradation as well as in the planning of
modern farming techni!ues. (f both# bulk density and particle density are
known# the total porosity can be calculated by using these values.
Soil bulk density should be used as an indicator of soil !uality parameter.
) unit increases in organic matter and clay content caused a relatively
larger decrease in soil bulk density. ) soil system can be thought as a
network of soil properties.
ulk density is an indicator of soil compaction and soil health. (t a*ects
infltration# rooting depth+restrictions# available water capacity# soil
porosity# plant nutrient availability# and soil microorganism activity# which
in%uence key soil processes and productivity.
ulk density varies from soil to soil and from hori$on to hori$on and is
primarily a function of the amount of pore space in the soil. &he percent
pore space in a soil is a function only of bulk density since particle density
is a constant for a given hori$on or soil. ,hen bulk density increases
percent pore space decreases. &here is also a change in the distribution of
micro to macro pores with changes in bulk density. (ncreases in bulk
density# which are usually caused by compaction# tend to destroy the
large macro pores in preference to the smaller micro pores. Since the
macro pores are those pores that drain free of water and hence serve as
the pathways for air and water movement# compaction tends to increase
problems associated with e-cess water .perched water tables/ and
associated with poor aeration.
0igh bulk density indicates1
1. 2oor environment for root growth i.e "esistance to penetration
hence restricts rooting depth# which reduces the uptake of water
and nutrients by plants/
3. "educed aeration
4. "educed water infltration# thereby increasing runo* and the
ha$ard of water erosion
Factors Afecting Bulk Density
(nherent factors that a*ect bulk density such as soil te-ture cannot be
changed. ulk density is dependent on soil organic matter# soil te-ture#
the density of soil mineral .sand# silt# and clay/ and their packing
arrangement.
)s a rule of thumb# most rocks have a density of 3.55 g+cm
4
so ideally# a
silt loam soil has 506 pore space and a bulk density of 1.44 g+cm4.
7enerally# loose# well8aggregated# porous soils and those rich in organic
matter have lower bulk density. Sandy soils have relatively high bulk
density since total pore space in sands is less than silt or clay soils. ulk
density typically increases with soil depth since subsurface layers are
more compacted and have less organic matter# less aggregation# and less
root penetration compared to surface layers# therefore contain less pore
space.
)vailable water capacity .9igure 3/ is a*ected by soil te-ture# presence
and abundance of rock fragments# soil depth and restrictive layers.
Bulk Density Management
ulk density can be changed by management practices that a*ect soil
cover# organic matter# soil structure# compaction# and porosity.
:-cessive tillage destroys soil organic matter and weakens the natural
stability of soil aggregates making them susceptible to erosion caused by
water and wind. ,hen eroded soil particles fll pore space# porosity is
reduced and bulk density increases. &illage and e!uipment travel results
in compacted soil layers with increased bulk density# most notably a ;plow
pan<. &illage prior to planting temporarily decreases bulk density on the
surface but increases at the depth of tillage. Subse!uent trips across the
feld by farm e!uipment# rainfall events# animals# and other disturbance
activities will also compact soil. =ong8term solutions to soil compaction
center on decreasing soil disturbance and increasing soil organic matter.
) soil>s available water capacity is also a*ected by organic matter and
compaction. Organic matter increases a soil>s ability to hold water# both
directly and indirectly. Compaction increases bulk density and reduces
total pore volume# conse!uently reducing available water holding
capacity.
&he following measures increase organic matter# and reduce compaction#
which improve bulk density and porosity1
.i/ 2ractices that increase organic matter such as continuous no8till#
cover crops# solid manure or compost application# diverse
rotations with high residue crops and perennial legumes or grass
used in rotation?
.ii/ @inimi$e soil disturbance and avoid operating e!uipment when
soils are wet?
.iii/ Ase designated roads or rows for e!uipment?
.iv/ "educe the number of trips across a feld?
.v/ Subsoil to disrupt e-isting compacted layers? and
.vi/ Ase multi8crop systems involving plants with di*erent rooting
depths to help break up compacted soil layers.

Determination of Bulk Density
&o obtain core samples is relatively simple if no stones are present#
however# it is more diBcult to obtain good !uality cores. &he core sampler
is pushed or driven into the soil to the desired depth and then removed.
@any samplers are available which are provided with a metal casing to
hold the core and permit easy removal and handling of
the sample during weighing# wetting and drying. (f the soil sampler is
assumed to be full its volume may be used as the volume of soil. (f the
sampler is not full volume may be used as the volume of soil. (f the
sampler is not full an independent measurement must be made of the
volume of soil.
Equipment needed
C Cylindrical core sampler#
C 'nife or spatula
C alance sensitivity 0.01g
C Oven to dry the core samples at 105
o
C
C 2lastic bag 8 large enough to hold the sample
C ,heighing tin
Laboratory Procedure
.i/ Determine the weight of empty container.cylindrical tin/
.ii/ &he sample in a container is then placed in oven at a
temperature 105
o
C to dry for 3Ehrs. Depending on the si$e of the
container more drying hours can be applicable.
.iii/ "emove the sample from an oven cool and measure the
weight of dried soil sample F container.
.iv/ Determine the volume of cylinder core# cm4
Particle Density
Soil particle density .g + cm
4
/ is mass of soil solids .oven8dry/ per unit
volume of soil solids.
2article density depends on the densities of the various constituent solids
and their relative abundance. &he particle density of most mineral soils
lies between 3.5 and 3.G g + cm
4
. &he range is fairly narrow because
common soil minerals di*er little in density. 2article density is a relatively
constant parameter and is sometimes assumed to be 3.55 g+cm
4
. (n
contrast# organic soils have lower particle densities since the density of
organic matter is much less than that of mineral particles. (t is easy to
measure the mass of a small sample of soil but not so easy to accurately
measure the volume of soil solids that make up this mass. rie%y# the
volume of a known mass of soil solids is determined by indirectly
measuring the volume of water displaced by the soil solids. &he mass of
water displaced is actually measured# then the corresponding volume
found from the known density of water.
Procedures for Particle Density
raduated !ylinder "et#od$
1. 2repare an air dried soil sample.
3. )dd G0 ml of water to a 100 ml graduated cylinder.
4. Asing a mortar and pestle# grind about 40 grams of soil to destroy
aggregates. 7rinding is not re!uired for sand.
E. ,eigh the sample and record the weight.
5. Asing a funnel# pour the weighed sample into the cylinder
containing the measured amount of water.
5. Shake or stir to release any entrapped air bubbles.
G. "ead and record the new water level.
H. &he change in water level is the volume of water displaced by the
soil# and therefore the volume of the soil particles.
2orosity
/hen soil is saturated ,all air in the soil is displaced by water. Thus, the
volume o" water is an indication o" the total porosity o" the soil 0i.e., the
volume o" pores).
Soil porosity is the percentage of a soil that is pore space or voids. &he
average soil has a porosity of about 506# and the pores are flled with air
or water depending on the moisture content. Sands have larger pores#
but less total pore space than clays.
Soil particles have a more or less fxed density o" 1.23 g cm
3.
(f both bulk
density and particle density are known# the total porosity can be
calculated Soil porosity can be calculated as "ollows4.