New Mexico Soil

The soil from what we found out was so incredibly hard and compact has a unique in interesting past.  Through the history of New Mexico, the soil has been modified by erosion, which has helped with the addition of new minerals, compaction, and overall has changed the composition of the soil in its entirety.  This has created a soil that is incredibly hard, fine, and that is semi permeable.  But why is it that this soil is this way?

New Mexico soil at work

New Mexico soil

Generally speaking, much of the southwest region of the United States and in deserts all around the world have this CaCO3 surplus in it’s soils.  The CaCO3 is commonly referred to as caliche, and is what is responsible for making the ground so hard and so much like concrete.  In New Mexico, it comes from decomposed marine life (since New Mexico used to be a large ocean bed), and thus all of the old and decomposed oceanic life are.  This creates lime scale, which is why (for any New Mexico resident) you will see green “moss” around taps if they are used for long enough.  This is also why normally pumped sometimes will taste a bit salty.  All of this happens because of New Mexico’s past.  However, that still does not answer the question of how it makes soil so hard.

The classification of CaCO3 is that it is indeed a salt.  Salts are easily dissolved in water, and are highly reactive when soluble.  This means that water can rush down and can permeate the ground while carrying large amounts of calcium carbonate.  While soluble, the caliche is able to form compounds such as calcium silicate, and calcium aluminate, which are both similar to cement like compounds.  When added to the already very close to clay like soil that we have, the particles are drawn closer together by these bonds, and they are both drawn very close together, and are held together by these bonds.  However, this is easily counteracted by the addition of water, as Calcium is easily dissolved with water, and thus the bonds are easily broken, and the soil returns to a state in which it seems to not be quite so cement like and is much easier to dig in general.  Sadly, New Mexico’s climate does not receive significant enough rain to disperse this salt, so when digging it is advised that the area is thoroughly soaked before hand.  This caliche is truly the enemy of digging, but it is utilized in the world around us today.Calcium carbonate

bonds formed my Calcium Carbonate

compress particles

It should be no surprise to anyone that calcium carbonate is used in cement.  It is used in much of the same way, as it forms bonds, this time with aluminum silicone, and sulfur to form calcium aluminosilicate and calcium sulfate.  These bonds are not only incredibly hard and strong, they are also waterproof.  Recently for an art class we used a cement like substance called mortar to help hang ceramic birds we made on archways around school.  We learned that it is used to hold tiles in place, and is used in almost every building.  Well, limestone (which is Calcium Carbonate) is one of the key ingredients within this, and it creates these incredibly strong bonds when activated by water that make it so hard and useful in the modern world.  It is also used environmentally to help cancel out acidic lakes and rivers, and is used by farmers as a key nutrient in the growing season.  Overall though, the benefits seem to outweigh the consequences, as clearly New Mexico’s agriculture has thrived from the soil and from this calcium carbonate which is able to provide nutrients to the plants without raising the pH to a point where the plants will never be able to thrive.  It is a key element within the soil that is what makes New Mexico and deserts around the world unique and so special in terms of the soil they possess.

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3 thoughts on “New Mexico Soil

  1. I really appreciate how informative this post is. You go into depth about New Mexico’s history, and about the chemistry of its soil, which is very interesting. The use of images depicting the clay particles allows the reader to further understand the chemistry that you describe.
    There are a few sentences that don’t make complete sense to me. The first sentence of the post says “The soil from what we found out was so incredibly hard and compact has a unique in interesting past”. It seems as though you might have simply forgotten to add a couple of words.
    It’s interesting how you incorporated your art experiences into the content of this post, and how Calcium Carbonate is incorporated into everyone’s daily life.
    Overall, this was an incredible post! Great job.

  2. Thanks Gretta!
    That first sentence is a bit confusing upon second glance. What it was meant to say was “The soil that we found was hard and compact, but upon further research, we found it had an interesting past that made it this way.” Overall, the more I learned about caliche or calcium carbonate the more interesting it was. This article not only applies to New Mexico, it applies to deserts all around the world! Anywhere that was once a seabed or has limestone in it will most likely have the same soil, as caliche is chemically compatible and seems to form bonds with just about anything!

  3. This is super informational and helpful for not just your project! It’s really important to know about our soil, even if we’re not doing any gardening.

    If I were you, I would revise at least the first sentence: “The soil from what we found out was so incredibly hard and compact has a unique in interesting past.” It’s confusing, and though we can somewhat figure out what you meant from the following paragraph, it casts a bad shadow as the opening sentence of the post.

    I would also suggest referring to CaCO3 as calcium carbonate for the entire post. In the middle, you suddenly switch from CaCO3 to calcium carbonate, and if I had not known what CaCO3 was beforehand, I would have been lost. I think you should just refer to it as calcium carbonate, with a note giving the name CaCO3 near the beginning.

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