Saskatoon 2010:  Joint Conference of the CSSS & CSA

Soil Judging Competition

Graduate and undergraduate students are invited to participate in a unique experiential learning and social event ⎯ the Canadian Soil Judging Contest.

2010 CSSS Soil Judging Competition Manual

2010 CSSS Soil Judging Competition Manual


Soil judging is a fun, educational and friendly competition that brings together students of soil science from across the country. Historically, soil judging has been an American event and very much a product of the structure of the American soil taxonomic system and how the American system reflects soil genesis.  Soil judging in Canada, to our knowledge, has never been an organized event and it is quite possible that the 2010 competition in Saskatoon will be the first ever of its kind. However, it is important that soil judging in Canada also be a product of how Canadian soil scientists classify and interpret soils. Thus, “soil judging” is a term borrowed to describe an event that will be Canadian.

Soil morphology, profile and site characteristics, and classification are taken from The Canadian System of Soil Classification (3rd Edition)  and the Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils.

Guidance on the structure of the competition and the format of the manual was obtained from the manual prepared for the 2008 National Collegiate Soil Contest hosted by the University of Rhode Island (April 13-18), Kingston, Rhode Island.

The purpose of this manual is to provide competitors with an idea of what to expect regarding the scope of the soil/site description and interpretation. Success will depend upon both individual performance and, in terms of interpreting the genetic relationships between soil types, your ability to work as a team. Each of the three areas addressed in the competition score sheet has been assigned a point value. The grading of these score sheets by the official judges will be done using these assigned points as a guide against official soil pit and site descriptions, and genetic interpretations. The grading will be done in keeping with the overall goal of this competition which is to have a fun, educational, and social experience.

Information for Competitors

The 2010 CSSS Soil Judging Competition is a contest between individuals who may also be grouped into teams of four.  Competitors will address four general areas:

Overall site characteristics

Soil profile characteristics (including parent material, drainage, landform, and land use)

Soil classification

Soil genesis [describe the genetic relationship(s) between the soils].

The team score will consist of the combined score for the individual team members.  The two highest scoring individuals and the highest scoring team will be recognized at the CSSS awards ceremony.

At each of the official soil pits (number to be determined), each competitor will describe the soil profile to a specified depth. The boundaries and number of horizons will not be indicated as it will be the judgement of each individual to decide how many horizons are present.  Each pit will have a designated control section that is marked with string and a measuring tape. Competitors are not allowed to touch (pick or dig) at the control section and will be disqualified if they do so.

Individual competitors will be rotated through their assigned pits in 30 minute intervals.  Additional time will be given to collect information on site characteristics and to describe the genetic relationships between observed soils. 

Soil Description Kit

Competitors may enter the pit with the following resources*:

Water Bottle


Munsell Colour Book

Soil Knife

Tape Measure

Containers to obtain soil samples

Hand Lens


Acid Bottle

*All items can be supplied by the host Institution; however, each competitor should bring whatever resources he/she can.

Each competitor will be supplied with score sheets and the necessary documents for interpreting and recording soil pit information. Use of items such as soil science related texts or papers, texture triangle, examples of soil texture, guides on structure, classification or other soil properties is forbidden and will result in disqualification of the individual and/or team.

The site descriptions, classification and any information relevant to the individual or team score is to be recorded on the score sheets provided. Abbreviations are provided below for many of the possible answers and should be used. Use of non-standard abbreviations will not be credited if the answer is judged to be ambiguous. A dash should be used if certain questions do not require an answer. A blank answer box or space will be included in the total score and will not receive credit.

In the event of a tie (i.e., total scores are equal), the tie will be broken by comparing the % coarse fragments in the lowest horizon of the first pit with the winner being the person who estimated the % coarse fragments closest to that of the official description.

Competition Score Sheets

Each competitor will receive a set of sheets on which to record their observations and interpretations (see the accompanying Score Sheet). The number of possible points that can be awarded will vary for each pit, depending on the number of horizons and their complexity.

Descriptions of the items in each section are given below.  Most of this information has been drawn from the Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils.

1)  Soil Horizon Description and Location Characteristics

Soil profile and horizon description, horizon properties, coarse fragments, texture, colour, structure, effervescence is addressed on Pp. 19–33 of the Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils.

A.  Soil Horizon Description

A1. Horizons – The total depth of the soil profile (control section) will be where the exposed profile meets the base of the pit.  The total # of soil horizons present in any given profile will not be given.  The depth of horizons with gradational boundaries will be the centre of what is judged to be the transitional zone between the two horizons.  If the transitional zone is greater than 20 cm then this must be described as a separate horizon and given a upper case designation as a combination of the horizon above and below (for example: AC, AB, BC). Horizons less than 1 cm in thickness do not need to be described as a separate horizon.

Horizon (upper case) – Enter the appropriate upper case letter for the master horizon (A, B, C, O, L, F, H, R, W).

Suffix (lower case) – with the upper case horizon designation include the appropriate lower case letter or letters. You should be familiar with the following suffixes for mineral soils: b, c, ca, cc, e, f, g, h, j, k, m, n, p, s, sa, ss, t, u, v, x, y, z. And the following suffixes for organic soils: f, m, h, co.

Note: More than one occurrence of the same combination of master horizon and suffix must be numbered with Arabic numerals to indicate vertical sequence. For example Bm1, Bm2, etc.  Also, any change in parent material must be indicated using must be numbered with Roman numerals to indicate Vertical Sequence. For example CcaI, CcaII, etc.

A2. Depth – Determine the depth in centimetres from the soil surface to the middle of the lower boundary of each horizon.  Depths should be judged at the tape measure in the control section. Depths will be credited with an error range in centimetres depending on the distinctness of the boundary: abrupt ±1 cm, clear ±2 cm, gradual ±5 cm, and diffuse ± 10 cm.

A3. Texture – This is the % of sand, silt and clay in a horizon. It is to be determined by the hand texture method according to the Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils. The texture is to be expressed as Class in abbreviated format according to the texture triangle. The texture classes and abbreviations are as follows:

















Heavy Clay


Sandy Loam

Silty Loam

Clay Loam

Sandy Clay

Silty Clay

Loamy Sand

Sandy Clay Loam

Silty Clay Loam

A4. Coarse Fragments % and Shape – Coarse fragments are greater than 2mm in size.  If present in a horizon, the % coverage must be given. The overall shape of coarse fragments in a horizon should also be given with under the following abbreviations.










A hand texturing guide and examples of % area covered for determination of % course fragments can be found in the Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils.

A5. Colour – The colour of the soil horizons is to be expressed as per the Munsell soil colour charts and must include the Munsell numbers for:




If the soil profile shows redoximorphic features (mottles) representing periodic or permanent reducing soil conditions, the competitor must make a judgement as to the strength of the process and whether it is to be represented as a weak or intense. This is to be expressed in the suffix as ‘g’ for intense or ‘gj’ for weak.

Mottles are zones within the mass of soil (the soil matrix) that have discernibly different colours than the remainder of the matrix. The differences in colours are also quantified using the Munsell Soil Color Chart system.

The abundance, size and contrast of mottles is important to the classification of the classification of the soil order. Classification in the Gleysolic order requires that mottles be at least 1 mm in size, at least 2% of the exposed face (abundance) and be prominent (contrast) in addition to having such a horizon at least 10 cm thick of which the upper boundary occurs within 50 cm of the mineral surface (See Canadian System of Soil Classification).

A6. Structure – The soil structure in each horizon must be given in abbreviated form as kind (shape) and class (size). Note that for Massive, Single grained and Columnar there is no class designation.




Class Abbreviation

Size (mm)



- - -

- - -

- - -

Single grained   


- - -

- - -

- - -










2 - 5












2 - 5


Angular blocky






Very Coarse






10 - 20

20 - 50


Sub-angular blocky






Very Coarse






10 - 20

20 - 50










20 - 50



- - -

- - -

- - -

A7. Effervescence (modified from CANSIS manual, 1982)

Effervescence is the bubbling, hissing or foaming noticed when a chemical reagent (usually 10% HCl) is added to a sample of soil. It is caused mainly by carbonates and manganese oxides, or sometimes by organic matter. It is recorded by noting the type and strength of reagent used and the degree of effervescence. Special care must be exercised on soils where dolomite is present. The reaction usually is slower, less visible and less audible. It can be enhanced by heating (with a match or lighter) the sample with HCl added in a spoon or other metal container.

       Degree of Effervescence of CaCO3


Very Weak








few bubbles

bubbles readily observed

bubbles form low foam

bubbles form thick foam

B.  Parent Material

Descriptions of parent material types (Genetic Materials) are given on Pp. 4 of the Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils; Pp. 6 & 7 provide a Key to Parent Materials which may be used as an aid to identify genetic materials.  Competitors are to choose the parent material type that best describes the overall site.

C.  Soil Drainage Classes

Soil drainage classes and their description are found on Pp. 10 of the Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils. The competitor must use this description to judge what the most appropriate soil drainage class is for the described profile. Take into account texture,  soil profile development, influence of groundwater or gleyed features, and local slope gradient.

D.  Landform Position (See Pp. 9 of the Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils)

Landform position describes the specific context of the soil pit within the geomorphic surface.  Consider the landform position associated with the soil pit to be the shape and position of the land of approximately a 10 m2 area surrounding the pit (i.e., look 5 m in all directions to assess the landform position).

E.  Land Use

Competitors are asked to select one of the four given land uses that best describes the land use at the pit location.

Grassland – permanent   vegetative cover dominated by a diverse mix of perennial grasses. May be native or restored grassland.

Cultivated – strong indications of modification due to agricultural management in relation to annual cropping. May or may not have vegetative cover. If present, vegetative cover will be a monoculture of annual cash crop or perennial forage.

Wetland – permanent vegetative cover dominated by trees, shrubs and wetland grass and grass-like species characteristic of poorly drained soils arranged in zones around a depressional area of semi-permanent to permanent water accumulation.

Forest – Permanent vegetative cover characterized by tree species averaging approximately 10 m or more in height.

2)  Soil Classification

A key to soil Orders, Great Groups and Sub Groups of the Canadian System of Soil Classification can be found in the Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils.

A.  Order – The overarching goal of this competition is to showcase grassland soils in Saskatchewan, hence the possibility of certain soil orders being present at the site is such that it is not worth including them as possibilities allowing competitors to concentrate on studying the soils that are most likely. The following are the soil orders that may be expected at the soil pit sites:






B.  Great Group – Each soil Order represents a dominant soil forming process. The Great Group is a subdivision of the soil Order and represents the intensity of the dominant soil forming process. Each competitor should familiarize themselves with the Great Groups specific to each of the above soil Orders.

C.  Sub Group – Certain soil horizons can be recognized as transitional to other soil Orders. The sub Group is a division of the Great Group that represents such a transition. Each competitor should familiarize themselves with the Sub Groups specific to each of the Great Groups associated with the above soil Orders.

3)  Genetic Relationships

At this point, the competitors can come together as a team to discuss how the soil forming factors interact to determine the dominant pedogenic processes at work in this landscape to produce the soil types and characteristics that were observed. Each competitor must provide a brief written answer to the question.


Field Handbook for Saskatchewan Soils

The Canadian System of Soil Classification, 3rd ed. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Publication 1646, 187 pp.