Density of Soil: Bulk Density and Particle Density

Density represents weight (mass) per unit volume of a substance.

Density = Mass / Volume

Soil density is expressed in two well accepted concepts as particle density and bulk density. In the metric system, particle density can be expressed in terms of mega grams per cubic meter (Mg/m3). Thus if 1 m3 of soil solids weighs 2.6 Mg, the particle density is 2.6 Mg / m3 (since 1 Mg =1 million grams and 1 m3 =1 million cubic centimeters) thus particle density can also be expressed as 2.6 g / cm3.

Particle Density: The weight per unit volume of the solid portion of soil is called particle density. Generally particle density of normal soils is 2.65 grams per cubic centimeter. The particle density is higher if large amount of heavy minerals such as magnetite; limonite and hematite are present in the soil. With increase in organic matter of the soil the particle density decreases. Particle density is also termed as true density.

Table Particle density of different soil textural classes

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 Textural classes Particle density ( g/ cm3) Coarse sand 2.655 Fine sand 2.659 Silt 2.798 Clay 2.837

Bulk Density: The oven dry weight of a unit volume of soil inclusive of pore spaces is called bulk density. The bulk density of a soil is always smaller than its particle density. The bulk density of sandy soil is about 1.6 g / cm3, whereas that of organic matter is about 0.5. Bulk density normally decreases, as mineral soils become finer in texture. The bulk density varies indirectly with the total pore space present in the soil and gives a good estimate of the porosity of the soil. Bulk density is of greater importance than particle density in understanding the physical behavior of the soil. Generally soils with low bulk densities have favorable physical conditions.

Bulk density of different textural classes

 Textural class Bulk density (g/cc) Pore space (%) Sandy soil 1.6 40 Loam 1.4 47 Silt loam 1.3 50 Clay 1.1 58

Factors affecting bulk density

1. Pore space: Since bulk density relates to the combined volume of the solids and pore spaces, soils with high proportion of pore space to solids have lower bulk densities than those that are more compact and have less pore space. Consequently, any factor that influences soil pore space will affect bulk density.

2. Texture: Fine textured surface soils such as silt loams, clays and clay loams generally have lower bulk densities than sandy soils. This is because the fine textured soils tend to organize in porous grains especially because of adequate organic matter content. This results in high pore space and low bulk density. However, in sandy soils, organic matter content is generally low, the solid particles lie close together and the bulk density is commonly higher than in fine textured soils.

3. Organic matter content: More the organic matter content in soil results in high pore space there by shows lower bulk density of soil and vice-versa.