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Chernozem Soil

Last updated date: 21st Feb 2024
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What is Chernozem Soil?

Chernozem is a type of soil that is black in colour and is rich in nutrients. The chernozem soil is rich in humus ranging between 4% to 16% along with a higher concentration of nutrients like phosphoric acids, phosphorus and ammonia. This makes the chernozem soil very fertile and hence one of the most useful soils for agriculture and results in high agricultural yields. 

Also, chernozem has high moisture storage capacities. It is also included as a Reference Soil Group of the World Reference Base for Soil Resources. It is one of the 30 soil groups which are classified by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

History and Formation of Chernozem Soil

Chernozem is a humus-rich grassland soil that is used extensively for agricultural purposes like growing cereals and for the raising of livestock all over the world. The word itself comes from the Russian language which means black earth. From the 19th and 20th century there have been discussions on the process of soil formation of Chernozem. They originated from the discussions on the climatic conditions of the early Holocene to roughly 5500 BC.

However, there has been no single consensus on any paleoclimate reconstruction that was able to accurately explain the processes of geochemical variations that had been found in Chernozems throughout central Europe. Better explanations were offered by the theory involving the anthropomorphic origin of the Chernozem soil formation. 

The Chernozem soil is also known to have the highest magnetic susceptibility as well. This high magnetic susceptibility of Chernozem is explained by the process of vegetation burning by humans. The reasoning is that the initially deposited soil containing significant concentrations of goethite and ferrihydrite was converted to maghemite because of the exposure to temperatures of around 220℃ which are only reached because of the vegetation burning. These events of vegetation burning are a rare occurrence when only left to natural processes. Hence, most of the vegetation burning would have been carried out by the humans leading to the formation of a chernozem soil profile.

The chernozem soil profile is also obtained when there is an accumulation of black carbon. This is observed in some regions such as the regions spanning from North America to Lower Saxony. This accumulation of black carbon is thought to partially originate from some charred materials. Because of these wide variations in the chernozem soil profile, the term summarizes the different types of black soils that have the same appearance but the processes of different formation histories. An image of the chernozem soil is shown below:

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Distribution of Chernozem Soil

To answer the question, chernozem soil is found in which region, we must understand the distribution of the soil geographically. They are distributed in the middle latitudes of both hemispheres especially in zones commonly known as prairie found in Argentina, pampa found in Afghanistan, and the steppes in Asia or eastern Europe. Also, it was originally found by the Russian geologist Vasily Dokuchaev in 1883, in the region of the tall grass steppe or the prairie of Eastern Russia. In total, they are present in almost 1.8% land area of the total continental landmass which is approximately 230 million hectares of land. 

There are two concentrated belts in the world that show that the chernozem soil is found in which region. One of the belts is the Eurasian belt and the other one is the one along the Canadian Prairies. The Eurasian belt extends from eastern Croatia along the Danube river, from southern and eastern Romania to northeast Ukraine across the Central Black Earth Region of central Russia and southern Russia to Siberia. The Canadian Prairies belt in Manitoba passes through the Great Plains of the United States reaching as far as south of Kansas. Other places where similar such soil types are found are Texas and Hungary. The map given below shows that the chernozem soil is found in which region.

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The layer of the chernozem soil ranges from a few centimetres to a few metres. In Ukraine, a 1.5-metre layer of the chernozem is found. Similar thick layers of chernozem soil profile are found in the Red River Valley region in the northern US and Canada. In small quantities, chernozem is also found in Poland, Northwest China, near Harbin. In Australia as well, the soil is found around the region Nimmitabel which is some of the richest soils in the nation.

Primarily there are two classification systems of the chernozem soil that are the Canadian Soil Classification and United States Soil Classification. They are classified as chernozemic, brown chernozem, dark brown chernozem, black chernozem, and dark grey chernozem. 

FAQs on Chernozem Soil

Q1. What is Chernozem Soil?

Ans: Chernozem soil is a humus-rich soil discovered by the Russian geologist Vasily Dokuchaev in the tall grass steppe of the prairie of Eastern Russia. It is black in colour and is very rich in organic matter and nutrients making them suitable for the growth of cereals and for raising livestock. Along with high humus, it also contains a high percentage of phosphoric acids, phosphorus and ammonia. Such high nutrient content is extremely fertile and is used for the production of high agricultural yields. The chernozem soil surface layer contains calcium ions which are bound to the soil particles making it a well-aggregated structure that is abundant with the natural grass vegetation.

Q2. How is Chernozem Formed?

Ans: Chernozem is formed on aeolian or glacial till sediments and is characterized by the high silica content and a prevailing silt fraction. Another theory describing the formation of chernozem soil states that it is formed by intensive vegetation burning. When initially deposited it contained significant amounts of goethite and ferrihydrite that was converted to maghemite when exposed to temperatures of 220℃. One of the manners in which such temperatures are reached is by the burning of vegetation probably majorly caused by human activities.

Q3. Why is Chernozem Soil Good for Farming?

Ans: Chernozem soil is a black soil that is known to be very good for farming. The soil is very fertile and hence is known for high agricultural productivity. It offers excellent conditions for crop production, especially oilseeds and cereals. It consists of dead organic matter of plants or animals which on decomposition makes the colour of the soil darker and also increases the ability of soil aggregation and also the attraction and retention of the nutrients.