Soil Compaction

contributed by Karen Colson and Jason Karl

Method Type

Soil Properties – Quantitative

Other Names

None known

Description and Uses

The impacts of soil compaction, such as reduced water infiltration, increased runoff potential, limited root growth and microorganism activity, and ultimately reduced site potential, are well known. But reliable methods to measure compaction are limited. There are three commonly used techniques for assessing soil compaction: strain gauge penetrometer, impact penetrometer and bulk density.

Impact penetrometer

An impact penetrometer is one method that can be used to help determine whether or not a soil is currently compacted. This method however requires reference data for similar soils with the same moisture content for comparison. In general, soil compaction is determined by the work needed to push a penetrometer cone into the soil with successive blows. See Herrick et al. 2002 for a more detailed description of this technique and information on constructing a penetrometer.

Advantages and Limitations

Cost, measurement reliability, and difficulty in comparing data can all be concerns when using penetrometers. Penetrometer measurements, for example, are very sensitive to soil moisture and measurements can only be compared among years if soil moisture content is the same during each sampling period. In addition, the repeatability of the measurements depends on the consistency of the height from which the mass is dropped.


Monitoring Manual for Grasslands, Shrublands, and Savanna Ecosystems (Herrick et al. 2009).

Technical and Application References

Similar Approaches

Qualitative methods (Pellant et al. 2000) are also useful for determining if soil is compacted. Some indicators, not related to a texture change, include platy soil structure and abrupt changes in root growth patterns.

Other methods that measure soil properties include Soil Infiltration and Soil Stability.

Data Forms

Printable data forms for the soil compaction method can be downloaded from

Electronic data forms can be found at the following sites

Additional Information

Soil stability kits and impact penetrometers can be purchased from the following vendors:

  1. Synergy Resource Solutions, Jack Alexander
    Synergy Resource Solutions, Inc.
    1755 Hymer Ave.
    Sparks, NV 89431
    (775)-331-5577 Office
    (775)-331-5579 Fax
    (775)-772-5123 Cell

Comments are closed.