Major Soil Types of India: Alluvial Soils & Black Soils

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Soil Types of India – Alluvial Soils – Black Soils – Characteristics, Chemical properties, Distribution, Divisions: Bhabar, Terai, Bhangar, Khadar.

Major Soil Types of India

  • Geologically, Indian soils can broadly be divided into soils of peninsular India and soils of extra-peninsular India.
  • The soils of Peninsular India are formed by the decomposition of rocks in situ, i.e. directly from the underlying rocks.
  • Soils of Peninsular India are transported and re-deposited to a limited extent and are known as sedentary soils.
  • The soils of the Extra-Peninsula are formed due to the depositional work of rivers and wind. They are very deep. They are often referred to as transported or azonal soils.

Major groups:

  • Alluvial soils,
  • Black soils,
  • Red soils,
  • Laterite and Lateritic soils,
  • Forest and Mountain soils,
  • Arid and Desert soils,
  • Saline and Alkaline soils and
  • Peaty and Marshy soils.

Soil Types - Major Soil Groups of India

Alluvial Soils

  • Alluvial soils are formed mainly due to silt deposited by Indo-Gangetic-Brahmaputra rivers. In coastal regions some alluvial deposits are formed due to wave action.
  • Rocks of the Himalayas form the parent material. Thus the parent material of these soils is of transported origin.
  • They are the largest soil group covering about 15 lakh sq km or about 46 per cent of the total area.
  • They support more than 40% of the India’s population by providing the most productive agricultural lands.

Characteristics of Alluvial Soils

  • They are immature and have weak profiles due to their recent origin.
  • Most of the soil is Sandy and clayey soils are not uncommon.
  • Pebbly and gravelly soils are rare. Kankar (calcareous concretions) beds are present in some regions along the river terraces.
  • The soil is porous because of its loamy (equal proportion of sand and clay) nature.
  • Porosity and texture provide good drainage and other conditions favorable for agriculture.
  • These soils are constantly replenished by the recurrent floods.

Chemical properties of Alluvial Soils

  • The proportion of nitrogen is generally low.
  • The proportion of Potash, phosphoric acid and alkalies are adequate
  • The proportion of Iron oxide and lime vary within a wide range.

Distribution of Alluvial Soils in India

  • They occur all along the Indo-Gangetic-Brahmaputra plains except in few places where the top layer is covered by desert sand.
  • They also occur in deltas of the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Krishna and the Cauvery, where they are called deltaic alluvium (coastal alluvium)
  • Some alluvial soils are found in the Narmada, Tapi valleys and Northern parts of Gujarat.

Crops in Alluvial Soils

  • They are mostly flat and regular soils and are best suited for agriculture.
  • They are best suited to irrigation and respond well to canal and well/tube-well irrigation.
  • They yield splendid crops of rice, wheat, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, jute, maize, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits.

Geological divisions of alluvial soils

  • Geologically, the alluvium of the Great plain of India is divided into newer or younger khadar and older bhangar soils.

Bhabar

  • The bhabar belt is about 8-16 km wide running along the Shiwalik foothills. It is a porous, northern most stretch of Indo-Gangetic plain.
  • Rivers descending from the Himalayas deposit their load along the foothills in the form of alluvial fans. These alluvial fans (often pebbly soils) have merged together to build up the bhabar belt.
  • The porosity of bhabar is the most unique feature. The porosity is due to deposition of huge number of pebbles and rock debris across the alluvial fans.
  • The streams disappear once they reach the bhabar region because of this porosity. Therefore, the area is marked by dry river courses except in the rainy season.
  • The area is not suitable for agriculture and only big trees with large roots thrive in this belt.

Terai

  • Terai is an ill-drained, damp (marshy) and thickly forested narrow tract (15-30 km wide) to the south of Bhabar running parallel to it.
  • The underground streams of the Bhabar belt re-emerge in this belt. It is a swampy lowland with silty soils.
  • The terai soils are rich in nitrogen and organic matter but are deficient in phosphate.
  • These soils are generally covered by tall grasses and forests but are suitable for a number of crops such as wheat, rice, sugarcane, jute etc..
  • This thickly forested region provides shelter to a variety of wild life.

Bhangar

  • The Bhangar is the older alluvium along the river beds forming terraces higher than the flood plain (about 30 metres above the flood level).
  • It is of a more clayey composition and is generally dark colored.
  • A few metres below the terrace of the bhangar are beds of lime nodules known as “Kankar”.

Khadar

  • The Khadar is composed of newer alluvium and forms the flood plains along the river banks.
  • The banks are flooded almost every year and a new layer of alluvium is deposited with every flood. This makes them the most fertile soils of Ganges.
  • They are sandy clays and loams, more dry and leached, less calcareous and carbonaceous (less kankary). A new layer of alluvium is deposited by river flood almost every year.

Black Soils

  • The parent material for most of the black soil are the volcanic rocks that were formed in the Deccan Plateau (Deccan and the Rajmahal trap).
  • In Tamil Nadu, gneisses and schists form the parent material. The former are sufficiently deep while the later are generally shallow.
  • These are the region of high temperature and low rainfall. It is, therefore, a soil group typical to the dry and hot regions of the Peninsula.

Characteristics of Black Soils

  • A typical black soil is highly argillaceous [Geology (of rocks or sediment) consisting of or containing clay] with a large clay factor, 62 per cent or more.
  • In general, black soils of uplands are of low fertility while those in the valleys are very fertile.
  • The black soil is highly retentive of moisture. It swells greatly on accumulating moisture. Strenuous effort is required to work on such soil in rainy season as it gets very sticky.
  • In summer, the moisture evaporates, the soil shrinks and is seamed with broad and deep cracks. The lower layers can still retain moisture. The cracks permits oxygenation of the soil to sufficient depths and the soil has extraordinary fertility.

Colour of Black Soils

  • The black colour is due to the presence of a small proportion of titaniferous magnetite or iron and black constituents of the parent rock.
  • In Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh, the black colour is derived from crystalline schists and basic gneisses.
  • Various tints of the black colour such as deep black, medium black, shallow black , a mixture of red and black may be found in this group of soils.

Chemical Composition of Black Soils

  • 10 per cent of alumina,
  • 9-10 per cent of iron oxide,
  • 6-8 per cent of lime and magnesium carbonates,
  • Potash is variable (less than 0.5 per cent) and
  • phosphates, nitrogen and humus are low.

Distribution of Black Soils

  • Spread over 46 lakh sq km (16.6 per cent of the total area) across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, parts of Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.

Crops in Black Soils

  • These soils are best suited for cotton crop. Hence these soils are called as regur and black cotton soils.
  • Other major crops grown on the black soils include wheat, jowar, linseed, virginia tobacco, castor, sunflower and millets.
  • Rice and sugarcane are equally important where irrigation facilities are available.
  • Large varieties of vegetables and fruits are also successfully grown on the black soils.
  • This soil has been used for growing a variety of crops for centuries without adding fertilizers and manures, with little or no evidence of exhaustion.

Primary References: NCERT Geography, Indian Geography by Kullar [Amazon and Flipkart]

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