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Alpine Soils

Alpine Soil
Wind-blasted vegetation on Cairngorm plateau

A grouping of soils confined to the highest ground in Scotland where very exposed mountain summits and plateau areas are subject to wet, very cold climatic conditions. In these areas the soil parent material is almost entirely locally derived and frost-shattered material. Vegetation cover is absent or very sparse outwith areas of late snow cover in distinct depressions where it is complete and characterised by distinct alpine species. Patterned ground is locally widespread.

Characteristics of Alpine Soils

  • Soils experience annual freeze-thaw process so that upper soil horizons have a relatively loose and porous fabric
  • Organic surface horizons are restricted to alpine soils located in late snow-bed areas
  • Soils have a characteristic subsurface horizon enriched with organic matter
  • Stones at depth have prominent silt caps on their underside
  • Soils may be relatively deep, up to 1 metre before bedrock is reached
  • Soil textures are often dominated by a high coarse sand and fine gravel component


Due to climatic and slope constraints, the soils have no agriculture or forestry value and are used for limited rough grazing of sheep and deer and for recreation.

Learning & Resources

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.