is a mixture of minerals, organic
matter, gases, liquids, and countless organisms that together support life on Earth. Soil is a natural body called the pedosphere which has four important functions: it is a medium for plant growth; it is a means of water storage, supply and purification; it is a modifier of Earth's atmosphere
; it is a habitat
for organisms; all of which, in turn, modify
Soil is called the Skin of the Earth
and interfaces with the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere
. The term pedolith
, used commonly to refer to the soil, literally translates ground stone
. Soil consists of a solid phase of minerals (the soil matrix
) and organic matter, as well as a porous phase that holds gases (the soil atmosphere) and water (the soil solution
). Accordingly, soils are often treated as a three-state system of solids, liquids, and gases.
Soil is a product of the influence of climate, relief (elevation, orientation
, and slope of terrain), organisms, and its parent materials (original minerals) interacting over time. Soil continually undergoes development by way of numerous physical, chemical and biological processes, which include weathering with associated erosion
. Given its complexity
and strong internal connectedness soil has been considered as an ecosystem by soil ecologists.
Most soils have a dry bulk density (density of soil taking into account voids when dry) between 1.1 and 1.6 g/cm3
, while the soil particle density is much higher, in the range of 2.6 to 2.7 g/cm3
. Little of the soil of planet Earth is older than the Pleistocene and none is older than the Cenozoic, although fossilized soils are preserved from as far back as the Archean.
Soil science has two basic branches of study: edaphology and pedology. Edaphology is concerned with the influence of soils on living things. Pedology is focused on the formation, description (morphology), and classification
of soils in their natural environment
. In engineering terms, soil is referred to as regolith, or loose rock material that lies above the solid geology
. Soil is commonly referred to as earth
; technically, the term dirt
should be restricted to displaced soil.
As soil resources serve as a basis for food security, the international community
advocates its sustainable and responsible use through different types of soil governance