Although there are exceptions, the smallest volume of material considered to be an individual soil has a volume of one cubic metre with the shape one metre wide, one metre long and one metre deep. Each individual soil, or pedon, is unique because it has characteristics that set it apart from all other pedons, in the same way that each tree is different from all other trees.
Having set an arbitrary definition of an individual soil, classification according to some preset criteria becomes possible. The criteria can be related to the soil itself, in which case the soil is taxonomic or "natural". Sometimes it is more worthwhile to consider some intended use, in which case the classification is interpretive. A taxonomic soil classification is based solely on soil characteristics, and separations are often made on inferred soil genesis. An interpretive classification is a prediction of how soils will respond to management. Landscape characteristics like slope steepness are usually part of interpretive classifications. Taxonomic systems depend on identifying the horizons or layers exposed in a soil profile.
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