What Soil Series am I Standing On?

It’s hard to think of something that people take more for granted than the soil beneath their feet. After all, it’s just dirt, right? Not so fast. There’s a lot to learn about your local soils and modern technology is here to help.

How do you find the soil series of your current location? The SoilWeb application from UC-Davis pulls up the soil map and can show your approximate location. Information on the soil series present is found after clicking the soil map unit.

Keep reading for step-by-step instructions showing everything you need in order to learn exactly what kind of soil series is in your local area.

Finding the Soil Series in Your Immediate Area

In this post we’re going to show a few different methods to find the soil series in your immediate area, but first we’ll briefly cover the different terms you might hear floating around in the world of soil science.

A Brief Overview of Terminology

It probably is easiest to demonstrate the terms with a real-life location. Here is a random location in Northern Wisconsin, as seen in the SoilWeb browser application:

If I click on the shape labeled ‘RoC’ I’ll be presented with the following information in the pane on the left:

There are really two main terms to keep in mind when first learning about soil via the U.S. Department of Agriculture: soil map unit and soil series.

In this case, the soil map unit is represented by the ‘RoC’ symbol. You can think of soil map units as a collection of soil series and other traits (often the slope grade) that recurs through a local region. Each of the symbols on the first screenshot refers to a soil map unit, and the soil map is comprised of the different units. Soil map units are made of different components, which are referred to as a soil series.

For this example, the soil series present in the RoC map unit is actually a mixture. The dominant soil series is Rubicon, as it comprises 90% of the RoC map unit. The other soil series present in this map unit are Croswell, Au Gres, Kalkaska, and Kinross. As I mentioned above, the soil series is the individual component that goes into the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains the list of soil series and the properties associated with them, and as of this writing there are more than 14,000 soil series in the United States.

Finding Your Soil Series in SoilWeb’s Web Application

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture does have an official app for displaying soil information (Web Soil Survey), it isn’t necessarily the first place I’d look as the interface is pretty dated.

Instead we’ll be using the SoilWeb application, which was put together by the soil science team at the University of California-Davis. It’s available as a web app and as a mobile app, and we’ll start with the web app.

Open the link to the SoilWeb browser application and you should be greeted with a screen that looks something like this:

Once you dismiss the message box, you should then head over to the upper-left corner of the screen to find the following icon:

After you click the icon you’ll likely be prompted with a request for the browser to pass your current location onto the webpage. Approve that and then your screen should update to your current location and also place a blue icon at your approximate location.

Zoom into the map and then click anywhere within the confines of the soil map unit to determine which soil series are present in your current location. The confines of the soil map unit are represented by the yellow lines that you see throughout the map. After clicking within the confines of your map unit you should see something like this on the left side of the screen:

As discussed in the first section, the soil series for this soil map unit are the links highlighted in blue in the ‘Map Unit Composition’ part of the left pane. In this case the soil series are Kennan (twice), Neopit, Rosholt, Hatley, and Keweenaw. The percentages to the left of the blue links indicates the percent of that soil series present in this soil map unit.

Finding Your Soil Series in the SoilWeb Mobile Application

Next we’ll cover finding your soil series with the SoilWeb mobile application. This app is available for both Android and iOS.

If you’ve already found your answer in the section above, there’s no need to download this mobile app unless you would like access to this same information in the field.

It’s dead simple to find the soil series in your local area with the mobile app, simply click on the ‘Get Soil Data’ button at the top of your screen:

This will query the Soil Data Access tables and then your screen should be updated with something that looks similar to this:

It’s worth noting that the data in this view is a formatted a little differently than the browser application. The soil series in the mobile app are found in the light blue boxes at the top of the tall graphics, with this screenshot having values of ‘Plainfield’ and ‘Watseka.’ It’s worth noting that there may be additional soil series found to the right of the two that are currently on the screen. You’ll need to swipe right to check for additional soil series.

You can click the light blue boxes to find more information about that specific soil series.

Finding Your Soil Series in Web Soil Survey

While it’s true that I don’t miss many opportunities to point out that the Web Soil Survey application from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a bit outdated, there are a lot of really cool things it can do.

With that being said, unless you are really interested in learning more about the soils in your local area, you’ll probably get everything you need from SoilWeb. You can use this link to open Web Soil Survey.

In case you’re interested in seeing what Web Soil Survey is capable of, feel free to check out this post in which I cover this application in great detail.

It’s worth noting that SoilWeb has a very handy link in the upper-right hand portion of the screen that allows you to jump over to Web Soil Survey:

This link takes you over to a session of Web Soil Survey with the boundaries of your previous screen now setup as the Area of Interest. With the AOI already established, you can now head over to the ‘Soil Data Explorer’ tab in order to start exploring the different reports and data available in Web Soil Survey.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this piece and were able to find out everything about your local soil that you were looking for. While it’s true that it is easy sometimes to get “information overload” when doing this kind of thing, I think modern tools like SoilWeb are helping a lot.

If you are interested in reading pieces that cover similar content, feel free to check out any of the following articles:

By Drew Meulemans

I've long admired forests and devote much energy to learning about them and exploring. I enjoy sharing what I learn and wish to inspire others to do the same.