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Where the Soils Are

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 08/20/2015 More stories >>

Dr. Jonathan Deenik shares his knowledge of soils with
farmers throughout the Pacific.

Dr. Jonathan Deenik shares his knowledge of soils with farmers throughout the Pacific.

You may never have heard of a mollisol or a dystric inceptisol or be able to tell one from the other, but these and other soil types are literally the basis of all life, in the Islands and beyond. It’s vital to understand what soil you’re dealing with and what its characteristics are, whether you’re growing an orchard, digging a fishpond, or building a road or house. Varying physical, chemical, and biological properties mean different soils perform differently; they’re suited to specific uses and require specific management. Jonathan Deenik’s Hawai‘i Soil Atlas gives growers, builders, and other interested professionals and community members this information, and more.

Dr. Jonathan Deenik taking a forest soil sample.

Dr. Jonathan Deenik taking a forest soil sample.

Despite their small total landmass, the Hawaiian Islands have tremendous diversity in soil types—57 on the island of Kaua‘i alone! Soil-forming factors such as climate, topography, biota, and parent material can vary dramatically over small distances: soils formed on the dry leeward coastal plains differ from those in the wet upland forests or those formed from recent lava flows or volcanic ash deposits. The Interactive Soil Map portion of the Atlas makes such distinctions clear. Here’s the link to the Interactive Soil Map: http://gis.ctahr.hawaii.edu/SoilAtlas#map.

Dr. Deenik, a specialist in the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, worked with Joshua Silva, a recent MS graduate from TPSS, associate professor Tomoaki Miura, researcher Russell Yost, and IT technicians Nathan Dorman and William Connor to create the Soil Map, which allows users to locate, identify, and learn about any soil in the Hawaiian Islands. It condenses key data from the USDA NRCS Hawaii Soil Survey into a language and format understandable to a wide audience. Scrolling over a map or typing in an area name, users get concise descriptions of Hawai‘i’s 297 different soil and land cover types, with general information on topographic location and climate and more detail on soil attributes like water retention, fertility, acidity/alkalinity, organic matter, and physical structure.

The Atlas also includes essential plant nutrients and properties related to soil productivity, including target levels to enable diagnosis of nutrient sufficiency/deficiency. There are supplemental maps showing additional characteristics such as soil shrink–swell potential, a glossary, and further resources. In short, it’s a one-stop guide to what’s beneath your feet—one that may well make you rethink just what you’re walking all over.