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Physical properties of tropical sandy soils: A large range of behaviours

Abstract : Sandy soils are often considered as soils with physical properties that are easily defined, however they are far from being simple. This is particularly the case for sandy soils in the tropics where they are subjected to a cycle of wetting and drying associated with seasonality. In this respect small changes in composition lead to significant differences of physical properties. One of the major soil characteristics to be taken into account is the size distribution of the sand grains. If fine sand induces greater porosity, water retention and resistance to penetration than coarse sand, they exhibit lower permeability. Porosity decreases when the heterogeneity of the sand grain distribution increases leading to an increase in resistance to penetration and decreases in permeability. The presence of silt particles leads to similar consequences. Thus, silty sands are more compact than sandy soils, most silt particles occupying the voids between sand grains thereby reducing porosity and consequently permeability. Size distribution and mineralogy of silt and clay sized particles that are associated with sand grains are also responsible for variations in physical properties of tropical sandy soils. Under tropical environments, sandy soils undergo significant weathering to depth thus resulting in a mineralogy where quartz the dominant mineral in the sand and silt fraction and forms a significant proportion of the clay sized fraction. On the other hand, sandy soils can be present in the lower part of the landscape where clays or salts form during the dry season. As a consequence, sandy soils with similar particle size distribution but due to differences in mineralogy of the clay sized fraction that represents not more than a few percent of the soil mass, show very different physical properties. Finally, in sandy soils unlike other soils, the elementary fabric is easily affected by tillage practices. If greater porosity can be produced through tillage operations, the stability of these systems is very weak and compaction by wheels or other actions can in return produce a dense structure. Thus, compaction results from a variation of the structure at all scales, i.e. from the macroscopic to microscopic scales.
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Ary Bruand, Christian Hartmann, G. Lesturgez. Physical properties of tropical sandy soils: A large range of behaviours. Management of Tropical Sandy Soils for Sustainable Agriculture. A holistic approach for sustainable development of problem soils in the tropics., 2005, Khon Kaen, Thailand. ⟨hal-00079666⟩



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