Using magnetic susceptibility to facilitate more rapid, reproducible and precise delineation of hydric soils in the midwestern USA

David A. Grimley, Nancy K. Arruda, Mark W. Bramstedt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Standard field indicators, currently used for hydric soil delineations [USDA-NRCS, 1998. Field indicators of hydric soils in the United States, Version 4.0. In: G.W. Hurt et al. (Ed.), United States Department of Agriculture-NRCS, Fort Worth, TX], are useful, but in some cases, they can be subjective, difficult to recognize, or time consuming to assess. Magnetic susceptibility (MS) measurements, acquired rapidly in the field with a portable meter, have great potential to help soil scientists delineate and map areas of hydric soils more precisely and objectively. At five sites in Illinois (from 5 to 15 ha in area) with contrasting soil types and glacial histories, the MS values of surface soils were measured along transects, and afterwards mapped and contoured. The MS values were found to be consistently higher in well-drained soils and lower in hydric soils, reflecting anaerobic deterioration of both detrital magnetite and soil-formed ferrimagnetics. At each site, volumetric MS values were statistically compared to field indicators to determine a critical MS value for hydric soil delineation. Such critical values range between 22×10-5 and 33×10-5 SI in silty loessal or alluvial soils in Illinois, but are as high as 61×10-5 SI at a site with fine sandy soil. A higher magnetite content and slower dissolution rate in sandy soils may explain the difference. Among sites with silty parent material, the lowest critical value (22×10-5 SI) occurs in soil with low pH (4.5-5.5) since acidic conditions are less favorable to ferrimagnetic mineral neoformation and enhance magnetite dissolution. Because of their sensitivity to parent material properties and soil pH, critical MS values must be determined on a site specific basis. The MS of studied soil samples (0-5 cm depth) is mainly controlled by neoformed ultrafine ferrimagnetics and detrital magnetite concentrations, with a minor contribution from anthropogenic fly ash. Neoformed ferrimagnetics are present in all samples but, based on high χFD% (∼5% to 10%), are most prevalent in high pH Mollisols of northeastern Illinois. Scanning electron microscope images display significantly more detrital magnetite alteration in hydric soils, substantiating that reductive dissolution of magnetite (aided by microorganisms) is a primary cause for lower MS. Fly ash comprises 8-50% of the >5 μm strongly magnetic particles and typically accounts for 5-15% of the total MS signal. The proportion of fly ash in >5 μm strongly magnetic fractions is greater in hydric soils because of lower natural magnetite contents, possibly combined with historical topsoil accumulation in lower landscapes. Magnetic fly ash particles are also more altered in low MS soils, implying that significant magnetite dissolution can occur in less than 150 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-213
Number of pages31
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 28 2004


  • Alteration
  • Ash
  • Hydric soils
  • Illinois
  • Magnetic susceptibility
  • Magnetite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Using magnetic susceptibility to facilitate more rapid, reproducible and precise delineation of hydric soils in the midwestern USA'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this