Soil Geography

Geography, Soil


a branch of soil science that studies the pattern of distribution of soils on the earth’s surface for the purpose of soil-geographic regionalization. There is general and regional soil geography. General soil geography studies the factors that influence soil formation and the most general laws of the geographic distribution of soils and types of soil structure. Regional soil geography is concerned with regionalization and with the description of the soils in individual regions. Soil geography relies principally on the comparative geographic method to study the distribution of soils in relation to the factors influencing soil formation. Extensive use is made of cartography in the compilation of soil maps.

Soil geography arose at the end of the 19th century and developed in response to the demands of agricultural production and the necessity for classifying and evaluating soils. The principles of soil geography in Russia were established by V. V. Dokuchaev, who discovered the relationship between soil and the natural factors that help to form it. He developed the method of profile study of soils combined with soil formation factors. Instead of the old statistical method of mapping, he used a new technique based on establishing the relationship between soil and visible soil formation factors (relief and vegetation) and employed the relationship to determine the boundaries of the soil contours.

The new technique was applied in soil surveys carried out in different regions of European Russia and in the compilation of the country’s soil map. The data thus obtained enabled Dokuchaev to establish the laws of latitudinal (horizontal) and vertical zonality of soils (1898-99). The law of zonality arose from the scientist’s concept of the nature of soil formation and from his view of soil as a distinct natural body. The complex of factors influencing soil formation in plains and mountains determines the zonal position of the soils.

In 1900, Dokuchaev worked out the first scheme of soil zones of the northern hemisphere, in which he distinguished the arctic, forest, chernozem steppe, and lateritic soil zones. This scheme was later filled out in detail. Dokuchaev’s theory of soil zones was a major scientific contribution that promoted the advancement of soil science. At the beginning of the 20th century, zemstvo (provincial assembly) soil surveys using Dokuchaev’s method were carried out in several provinces of European Russia with the participation of S. S. Neustruev, L. I. Prasolov, and B. B. Polynov.

The Russian scientists N. A. Dimo and B. A. Keller introduced a significantly new concept into soil geography. With specific reference to semideserts, they showed in 1907 that soils are varied and related to the microrelief (“microcomplexity of soils”). Several years later (1910), S. A. Zakharov described the microrelief complex in the podzolic zone and broadened the concept. In 1908 large-scale surveys were undertaken under the direction of K. D. Glinka to study the soils and vegetation in the southern regions of Western and Eastern Siberia, the basin of the upper Amur River, and Middle Asia. The reports and publications of these expeditions furnished a great deal of new information on the soil geography of Asian Russia. They showed the complex nature of the soil, the wedging out and discontinuous character of several soil zones (for example, chernozem and gray forest soil), and the isolation of the piedmont zone of sierozems. The accumulation of data on the soil geography of plains and mountains in both Europe and Asia led to the discovery of the patterns of soil distribution. A new concept arose of soil-geographic provinces, that is, parts of a soil zone with specific soil features caused by bioclimatic and geomorphological characteristics (L. I. Prasolov, 1916).

Soil-geographic explorations and soil mapping expanded enormously during the first few decades after the Great October Revolution. In addition to the broadening of small- and medium-scale soil investigations carried out for the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (AN SSSR) by the Council for the Study of Productive Forces and in previously unstudied regions of the country by the V. V. Dokuchaev Soil Institute, large-scale surveys of collective and state farm lands, which constitute most of the agricultural territory of the country, were initiated at the end of the 1920’s and early 1930’s. The soil-geographic data obtained were the basis for the compilation of small- and medium-scale soil maps of several regions and republics of the USSR, of separate soil maps of the Asian (1927) and European (1930) USSR, and of the USSR (1954) and the world in the physical geographic atlas of the world (1964).

Soil-geographic regionalization for the entire USSR and the individual krais and republics was carried out by the V. V. Dokuchaev Soil Institute, the Council for the Study of Productive Forces, and Moscow State University. Work is under way on a land cadastre and site evaluation based on large-scale soil maps. Research has begun on different types of soil structures using the methods of mathematical statistics (Institute of Geography, AN SSSR).

Dokuchaev’s school of soil geography played a significant role in the development of the soil geography of the world. Work in this field and in cartography was traditional with prerevolutionary and Soviet soil scientists. Following Dokuchaev’s scheme of soil zones of the northern hemisphere, they compiled a number of quite detailed soil maps of the world (K. D. Glinka, 1906, 1915, 1927; L. I. Prasolov, D. G. Vilenskii, and Z. Iu. Shokal’skaia, 1937). The soil maps of the world and of the individual continents in the physical geographic atlas of the world were compiled by a team of scientists and edited by I. P. Gerasimov (1964), V. A. Kovda and E. V. Lobovaia (1970), and others.

Foreign soil scientists made an important contribution to the geography and mapping of soils, including C. F. Marbut (United States), J. A. Prescott (Australia), H. Stremme (East Germany), P. Treitz (Hungary), G. Murgoci (Rumania), and V. Novak (Czechoslovakia). New data on the geography of foreign soils were obtained by Soviet soil scientists while working in East and Southeast Asia, Central Europe, and Cuba (I. P. Gerasimov, K. P. Bogatyrev, S. V. Zonn, V. A. Kovda, A. N. Rozanov, and V. M. Fridland).

In addition to work on soil cartography, theories concerning the main soil-geographic patterns and soil units were refined. The concept of geographical zones as the largest soil units was introduced. Ideas were broadened on soil-bioclimatic facies (I. P. Gerasimov, E. N. Ivanova, N. N. Rozov), spectra of horizontal soil zones (I. P. Gerasimov), different types of structures of high-altitude soil zonality (S. A. Zakharov, V. M. Fridland), and piedmont zonality (Iu. A. Liverovskii, E. A. Kornblium). Landscape geochemical phenomena were shown to be significant factors in the formation of soils in large regions and in combinations of soils from elements of the meso- and microrelief (V. A. Kovda, M. A. Glazovskaia).

Soil geography as an independent academic course is given in the biology-and-soil geography departments of the largest universities in the country for specialists in soil science and soil scientists-geographers or as a required course in agricultural and pedagogic institutions of higher learning. The first subdepartment of soil geography was founded in 1926 at Leningrad University by S. S. Neustruev. There are now subdepartments of soil geography at Moscow University (biology-and-soil and geography departments) and Leningrad University (geography department).


Glinka, K. D. Pochvovedenie. Moscow, 1931.
Neustruev, S. S. Elementy geografii pochv, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Pochvy SSSR, vols. 1-3. Edited by Academician L. I. Prasolov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
Vilenskii, D. G. Russkaia pochvenno-kartograficheskaia shkola i ee vliianie na razvitie mirovoi kartografii pochv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1945.
Dokuchaev, V. V. “K ucheniiu o zonakh prirody.” Soch., vol. 6. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.
Gerasimov, I. P., and M. A. Glazovskaia. Osnovy pochvovedeniia geografiia pochv. Moscow, 1960.
Rozov, N. N. “Obshchii uchet i kachestvennaia kharakteristika zemel’nykh resursov SSSR.” In Problemy pochvovedeniia. Moscow, 1962.
Volobuev, V. G. Ekologiia pochv. Baku, 1963.
Ivanova, E. N., N. N. Rozov, and V. M. Fridland. “Razvitie geografii pochv SSSR.” Pochvovedenie, 1967, no. 9.
Dobrovol’skii, V. V. Geografiia pochv s osnovami pochvovedeniia. Moscow, 1968.


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