Friday, November 21, 2008

Red States and Red Clay

Thanks for all of the links and compliments on the Black Belt post. It's been really gratifying to watch all of the pings come in from blogs all over the world, and with such kind compliments, too. I certainly thought it was neat, and I'm glad so many others agreed.

To those of you who are new visitors, my goal with this blog is to discover and write about the complex relationships between ecology and society. The maps of black belt soils and voting patterns were a particularly elegant and striking example of the sort of geographic connections I'm fascinated by. If you liked that post, you should also check out Portlandhenge, the Downtown Portland Glacier, From Swimming Pools to Vernal Pools, and The ExxonMobil Arena/Disaster Shelter.

Red soil in red counties: Commenter Michael, in the Black Belt post below, pointed out that "as you travel into the politically red areas, it's also literally red, as river sediments give way to red clay. My guess is that the red dirt isn't nearly as good for farming."

I did some background research on this and found that it's true. Actually, the black belt itself features a good deal of red clay, but it's underneath a surface layer of rich, black and loamy topsoil. The photo at right shows a sample of "Bama soil," the official state soil of Alabama. Note the thinner layer of black soil on top of a thicker layer of red, iron-rich clay.

Clay soils are typically the remnants of ancient marine sedimentary deposits, so naturally, there's a lot of clay in the Black Belt and just to its south. But this essay from the Alabama Dept. of Conservation explains that black belt soils have a thicker layer of black, more fertile topsoil because of its chalk content. The chalk fostered prairie grasses, which, over millions of years, accumulated into a dark, nutrient-rich topsoil. South of the Black Belt, where the Cretaceous seas were deeper, there's less chalk. Which means less fertile soil. Which means they supported fewer antebellum slave plantations. Which means more Republicans live there today.

But their gardens are probably lousy.


Lockwood said...

Another amazing chain of reason! Keep up the good work; I have subscribed, and look forward to hearing more from you.

Small Footprints said...

I'm a first time visitor to your blog ... it's fascinating. There are so many things happening "below the surface" of our choices and way of life.

Browsed some of your other posts ... a lot of good information here! Hope you don't mind if I follow you.

Take Care!

Small Footprints

molliver said...

There's one thing I don't understand about this whole phenomenon - which, by the way, you've done a stellar job noticing, researching, and describing. The question is this: How is it that African Americans managed to stay on that fertile soil? I know that many former slaves maintained relationships with their former owners, working for pay on their plantations, farming rented land...but still, you'd think that land values would be so much higher in this region than in the red dirt country, that at some point some effort would have been made to push them off, similar to the way that Native Americans were forced off all land that was seen as valuable to white settlers. Why is it that the same didn't happen here?

Anonymous said...

Never mix gardening and politics-it's obvious you DON'T know what you're talking about-in SE AL we have excellent gardens.

Tony said...

The Anglo-American economy has become oriented to industry and service and is very different from the agriculture-oriented economy of eras prior to the mid-20th century. Therefore, fertile land is no longer inherently more valuable than infertile areas.

Red lands of the southeastern USA are preferred for development because their soils seldom have a damaging shrink-swell property common to the black earths. The blushing kaolinite-rich subsoils are good to place ducts, pipes, and building foundations in.