Soil Color

Soil Color

Most soil minerals are not highly colored (often light gray)

Color is due to the presence of materials that coat the surfaces of soil minerals. Soil color can tell us a lot about a soil (e.g., drainage condition, organic matter content & relative degree of chemical weathering); however, it has little affect on the behavior and use of soils.

The Munsell Book of Color. Example: 10YR 5/4

Hue = 10 YR; Value = 5; Chroma = 4

The following is a quote from:

Soil Survey Division Staff. 1993. Chapter 3 - Examination and Description of Soils. In Soil Survey Manual, United States Department of Agriculture Handbook No. 18 pp146-153.


Soil Color

Elements of soil color descriptions are the color name, the Munsell notation, the water state, and the physical state: "brown (10YR 5/3), dry, crushed, and smoothed."

Physical state is recorded as broken, rubbed, crushed, or crushed and smoothed. The term "crushed" usually applies to dry samples and "rubbed" to moist samples. If unspecified, the surface is broken. The color of the soil is recorded for a surface broken through a ped if a ped can be broken as a unit.

The color value of most soil material becomes lower after moistening. Consequently, the water state of a sample is always given. The water state is either "moist" or "dry." The dry state for color determinations is air-dry and should be made at the point where the color does not change with additional drying. Color in the moist state is determined on moderately moist or very moist soil material and should be made at the point where the color does not change with additional moistening. The soil should not be moistened to the extent that glistening takes place as color determinations of wet soil may be in error because of the light reflection of water films. In a humid region, the moist state generally is considered standard; in an arid region, the dry state is standard. In detailed descriptions, colors of both dry and moist soil are recorded if feasible. The color for the regionally standard moisture state is usually described first. Both moist and dry colors are particularly valuable for the immediate surface and tilled horizons in order to assess reflectance.

Munsell notation is obtained by comparison with a Munsell system color chart. The most commonly used chart includes only about one fifth of the entire range of hues9. It consists of about 250 different colored papers, or chips, systematically arranged on hue cards according to their Munsell notations. Figure 3-24 illustrates the arrangements of color chips on a Munsell color card.

The Munsell color system uses three elements of color —hue, value, and chroma— to make up a color notation. The notation is recorded in the form: hue, value/chroma— for example, 5Y 6/3.

Hue is a measure of the chromatic composition of light that reaches the eye. The Munsell system is based on five principal hues: red (R), yellow (Y), green (G), blue (B), and purple (P). Five intermediate hues representing midpoints between each pair of principal hues complete the 10 major hue names used to describe the notation. The intermediate hues are yellow-red (YR), green-yellow (GY), blue-green (BG), purple-blue (PB), and red-purple (RP). The relationships among the 10 hues are shown in figure 3-25. Each of the 10 major hues is divided into four segments of equal visual steps, which are designated by numerical values applied as prefixes to the symbol for the hue name10. In figure 3-25, for example, 10R marks a limit of red hue. Four equally spaced steps of the adjacent yellow-red (YR) hue are identified as 2.5YR, 5YR, 7.5YR, and 10YR respectively. The standard chart for soil has separate hue cards from 10R through 5Y.

Value indicates the degree of lightness or darkness of a color in relation to a neutral gray scale. On a neutral gray (achromatic) scale, value extends from pure black (0/) to pure white (10/). The value notation is a measure of the amount of light that reaches the eye under standard lighting conditions. Gray is perceived as about halfway between black and white and has a value notation of 5/. The actual amount of light that reaches the eye is related logarithmically to color value. Lighter colors are indicated by numbers between 5/ and 10/; darker colors are indicated by numbers from 5/ to 0/. These values may be designated for either achromatic or chromatic conditions. Thus, a card of the color chart for soil has a series of chips arranged vertically to show equal steps from the lightest to the darkest shades of that hue. Figure 3-24 shows this arrangement vertically on the card for the hue of 10YR.

Chroma is the relative purity or strength of the spectral color. Chroma indicates the degree of saturation of neutral gray by the spectral color. The scales of chroma for soils extend from /0 for neutral colors to a chroma of /8 as the strongest expression of color used for soils. Figure 3-24 illustrates that color chips are arranged horizontally by increasing chroma from left to right on the color card.

The complete color notation can be visualized from figure 3-24. Pale brown, for example, is designated 10YR 6/3. Very dark brown is designated 10YR 2/2. All of the colors on the chart have hue of 10YR. The darkest shades of that hue are at the bottom of the card and the lightest shades are at the top. The weakest expression of chroma (the grayest color) is at the left; the strongest expression of chroma is at the right.

At the extreme left of the card are symbols such as N 6/. These are colors of zero chroma which are totally achromatic—neutral color. They have no hue and no chroma but range in value from black (N 2/) to white (N 8/). An example of a notation for a neutral (achromatic) color is N 5/ (gray). The color 10YR 5/1 is also called "gray,"for the hue is hardly perceptible at such low chroma.

Conditions for measuring color.—The quality and intensity of the light affect the amount and quality of the light reflected from the sample to the eye. The moisture content of the sample and the roughness of its surface affect the light reflected. The visual impression of color from the standard color chips is accurate only under standard conditions of light intensity and quality. Color determination may be inaccurate early in the morning or late in the evening. When the sun is low in the sky or the atmosphere is smoky, the light reaching the sample and the light reflected is redder. Even though the same kind of light reaches the color standard and the sample, the reading of sample color at these times is commonly one or more intervals of hue redder than at midday. Colors also appear different in the subdued light of a cloudy day than in bright sunlight. If artificial light is used, as for color determinations in an office, the light source used must be as near the white light of midday as possible. With practice, compensation can be made for the differences unless the light is so subdued that the distinctions between color chips are not apparent. The intensity of incidental light is especially critical when matching soil to chips of low chroma and low value.

Roughness of the reflecting surface affects the amount of reflected light, especially if the incidental light falls at an acute angle. The incidental light should be as nearly as possible at a right angle. For crushed samples, the surface is smoothed; the state is recorded as "dry, crushed, and smoothed."