Vasily Dokuchaev and Soil Science

Vasily Dokuchaev

Vasily Dokuchaev

On October 26, 1903, (Julian Calendar) Russian Geologist and Geographer Vasily Dokuchaev passed away. Dokuchaev is commonly regarded as the father of Soil science, the study of soils in its natural setting. He developed soil science in Russia, and was, perhaps the first person to make wide geographical investigations of different soil types.

The very early concepts of soil were developed by the German chemist Justus von Liebig. After several years, soil became known as some kind of static storage bin for plant nutrients—the soils could be used and replaced. Pioneering geologists then described soil as disintegrated rock of various sorts—granite, sandstone, glacial till, and the like and further described how the weathering processes modified this material and how geologic processes shaped it into landforms such as glacial moraines, alluvial plains, loess plains, and marine terraces. The first soil surveys were then performed to help farmers locate soils responsive to different management practices and to help them decide what crops and management practices were most suitable for the particular kinds of soil on their farms.

Vasily Dokuchaev established soil science as a natural science discipline. Soil had been considered as a product of physicochemical transformations of rocks, a dead substrate from which plants derive nutritious mineral elements. During the 1870s, the Russian school of soil science under the leadership of Dokuchaev and Sibirtsev developed a new concept of soil. Russian workers began to conceive soils more as natural bodies with unique properties resulting from a combination of climate, living matter, parent material, relief, and time. It was further hypothized that the soil’s properties reflected the combined effects of the particular set of genetic factors responsible for the soil’s formation. The Russian’s findings highly influenced the field through understanding that soils were not based on wholly on inferences from the nature of the rocks or from climate or other environmental factors, considered singly or collectively. Instead, the integrated expression of all these factors could be seen in the morphology of the soils. This also meant that all properties of soils should be considered collectively in terms of a completely integrated natural body.

Due to his contributions to the field, Vasily Dokuchaev is considered the father of soil science. Next to developing soil science in Russia, he became one of the first persons to make wide geographical investigations of different soil types. He introduced the idea that geographical variations in soil type could be explained in relation not only to geological factors (parent material), but also to climatic and topographic factors, and the time available for pedogenesis (soil formation) to operate. Using these ideas as a basis, he created the first soil classification. His ideas were quickly taken up by a number of soil scientists, including Hans Jenny.

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