Saturday, January 21, 2012

The origin of the catena concept

The catena concept in soil science comes from the Latin word “catena” which means chain. So it is a chain of soils linked by topography. It also refers to a sequence of soils in different positions in the landscape. It was introduced to the scientific literature by Geoffrey Milne (1898-1942) in a paper entitled “Some suggested units of classification and mapping particularly for East African soils” published in Soil Research-Bodenkundliche Forschung, Supplement to the Proceedings of the International Union of Soil Science Vol. IV No. 3 (1935), pp: 183-198. He noted “the regular repetition of a certain sequence of soil profiles in association with topography” in East Africa which was also observed earlier (in 1911 and 1912) by the German Peter Vageler. Milne wrote that "a distinctive word is needed in referring to this phenomenon" hence, he proposed the word catena.

Ernst Schlichting (1923-1988) who was professor at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart pioneered the approach of considering the soil always as part of the landscape. He proposed that soils in different positions in the catena exchange materials through transport processes and thus could be compared to the transfer processes between horizons in a soil profile. He and his students have shown that the downward transport of solids or solutions may lead to a direct or an indirect linkage between catena elements (Sommer and Schlichting, 1997; see above figure). In Schlichting’s view, the genesis of a soil can only be understood if its relation to the other soils in the catena is taken into consideration.

Typical catena in the volcanic areas of Leyte, Philippines
Catena is now also widely used in other sciences particularly ecology albeit with a slightly different meaning (e.g. a catena of terrestrial ecosystems).


jaylen watkins said...

Catena concept and its origin is well explained. I am well informed and contended reading it.
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Don Wakoluk said...

Writing an article for submission to WETLANDS journal titled...The loss of biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystem catenae (biogeocenes): A soil drainage class driven process utilized by invasives to dominate New England forests. Based on invasive plant GIS mapping research I performed '07-'09 at Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts,USA for Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. I like your concept of "Ecosystem Catenas", similar to Walker (1985) and would like to include your comments in paper if that's ok?

Victor B. Asio said...

Hello Don. Thanks for your comments. Yes of course, I would be very glad if you would include my comment about ecosystem catenas in your paper. best regards, victor

Isaac ongoma said...

Am now well informed abut soil catena,big-up to all who pioneered this knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I can not locate Milne's original paper anywhere, can you help? First off, it can not be the Proceedings of the International *union* of soil science societies, it was a *society" until 1993. Second, the journal "Soil Science"was active in 1935 but with a number > 4; and I can not find either the Soil Research or the German name in any library. (The current "Soil Research" was until recently "Australian J. of..." and is much newer. Have you actually seen this paper?

D G Rossiter
University of Twente/Faculty ITC
Enschede NL

Victor B. Asio said...

Dear Dr. Rossiter,

Thanks a lot for your message. Yes,I have in my files a photocopy of the original paper by Milne. I will be glad to email you a scanned copy tomorrow.

Greetings from Leyte.
V.B. Asio

D G Rossiter said...

Thanks! I have fond memories of my work at VSU back in the early 90's when it was still VISCA, I was working at Cornell and was asked to look at the Matalom project.

Meanwhile I also found a scanned copy of the report! so no need to send it. It is really worth reading not only for the catena concept but also for Milne's perceptive ideas about soil classification in general. And his concise and direct writing could be a model for us all.

Victor B. Asio said...

I am very glad to learn that you have been to VSU in the early 90s in connection with the Cornell-VISCA collaboration. In the early 2000s, I had the opportunity to participate in another Cornell-VSU collaborative project on watershed management organized by Dr. Tucker. It would be very nice if you visit VSU again. It has changed a lot in recent years.

About Milne's paper, I did not open my blog yesterday and was not aware that you already have a copy of the paper.So I still emailed you a scanned copy. Sorry about that.

Zadock Kiprono said...

hello this is john from kenya indeed am am glad for this information I realy want to have this on paper kindly can you send me a scanned copy on my email