Week 6:  Missouri Geology 

Week 6:  Missouri Geology

By Heather

Rereading, for the third time, our assigned essay from A Sand County Almanac, titled Odyssey, I realized with each read the essay rendered itself easier.  Aldo Leopold writes about the “x” and eventually the “y.”  Both letters commonly used in mathematical expressions, here represent an atom.  Each letter, or atom, represents a different lifecycle, per se, of that atom.  An atom never dies but is recycled as it progresses from one object to another, living or inanimate this is the never ending journey of an atom.  It is interesting to contemplate that every atom has always been here.  There might be atoms in our daily lives, in our bodies or a surrounding object that were in dinosaurs or even when the plant was devoid of life even at the microscopic level.

I was curious as to how and why Leopold wrote this.  I found an article written about what his point was regarding the “x and y.”  Here is a link if you are interested in the differentiation between his “x” journey and his “y” journey.  I know the night we discussed this we were all curious about the purpose.  After reading the interpretation it makes sense. http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/passion-for-the-land

Something else piqued my interest which is how he viewed and learned about atoms versus what newer science has discovered.  The article I linked has to do with quantum physics but the writer puts it in more laymen terms for the rest of us that are not physicists.  http://phys.org/news/2015-01-atoms.html

Approximately three years ago I was attending college at Florida Gulf Coast University majoring in communication with a minor in astronomy.  Fascinated by the stars and planets I was more than happy to take one of the required classes, geology.  My grandparents were rock hounds.  I guess that is where I got my affinity for shiny rocks.  They would attend and were active participants at rock shows.  Some of those rock finds were attributed to our weekend excursions to Lake Superior to pick agates. 

I think another attributing factor to my fascination with rocks/soil was in the 6th grade.  My school district had a school forest. As students we were required to spend three days on location in 5th grade and then again in 6th grade for one week.  It was during my 6th grade year we were out in the forest; I clearly remember one of the teachers using a tool to remove a horizons soil sample.  It was one of the coolest things ever to look and see the different colored soil layers.  It answered questions yet inspired more.  The intrigue grew in me as I aged.  But what really grasped me about geology, is how our soil is formed, how the tectonic plates shift, how Hawaii and other volcanic islands are formed and how mountains became the towering peaks they are.  

Even though I have taken a college level geology class there is always something one forgets or something to be learned from a new lecturer.  This class taught me about Missouri’s geology; how similar it is to other places and yet so unique, from upland hills and prairies to the southern boot heel filled with cypress swaps.

Our guest lecturer for the evening was John D. Horn, Ph.D., from Maplewoods Community College.  He is a professor of environmental geology.  Dr. Horn’s enthusiasm was definitely catchy and radiated on all of us.  His discussion included question and answers as well as class responses to his questions.  The lecture and discussion were enlightening and engaging, plus, we got to play in a bag of dirt.

Soil horizons

The lecture was chock full of information on soil formation, what the soil horizon is and represents, along with how soil is made.  Horizons are the distinct layers of the soil roughly parallel to the surface as the soil develops over time. Each layer of the soil sample from the horizon is represented by a letter:  O, A, E, B, C.

Dr. Horn shared with us how we can tell what is in the soil just by the color.  Black contains high organic material and is carbon based.  Red displays high iron content, iron oxide, and only has iron in it.  Bone white soil has no nutrients in it at all.  Grey or glay soil is water logged meaning there is no oxygen for life to sustain itself.  A good example of the grey soil would be in areas of perma frost or stagnant water in swamps.  An interesting piece of information he shared with us is grey soil is 30 million years old.

We also participated in an exercise with books which display the types of soil throughout the state of Missouri.  The books are called a Soil Survey.  They are categorized by counties and within those counties are the cities.  Some of the information found within the soil survey includes drainage types, formed landscapes and what kind of material the soil forms.  The books were a tad difficult to read at first but once we got the hang of it, they started making more sense.  The soil surveys can now be found online and from what Dr. Horn said you can still order them in paper copy.  Here is a link to the Missouri’s soil survey information if you are curious or save the link for later use.  http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/surveylist/soils/survey/state/?stateId=MO

Dr. Horn presented us with so much information and knowledge that it makes it impossible for me to share everything.  One piece of information he shared resonated with me.  Everything comes from our soil.  We must keep it clean and enact better practices such as bioremediation for polluted soil and reduce soil pollution by reducing chemical use.  Our country continued lawfully unrestrained for so many years without a plan of where our pollution went or how and why to control it.  No thought went into our waste disposal, factory run off into rivers, leaking underground tanks or spraying pesticides for crops.  But now we know.  Now we can educate more people, petition the government on all levels and spread the word about how our soil is the foundation for life, all life.

© Osage Trails Chapter Missouri Master Naturalist 2012-2018 ~ All Photographs © Osage Trails Members