MLRA 121: Kentucky Bluegrass
E. Perfect. T. Karathanasis, and G. Haszler
University of Kentucky
This major land resource area (MLRA 121) occupies 2.95 million ha (7.28
million acres) in north-central Kentucky, south-eastern Indiana, and southern
The climate is temperate, humid, continental type. Winters are characterized
by short cold spells, frequent sharp changes in temperature, and fairly
high humidity. Summers are hot and humid. Relative humidity is generally
higher at night, and the average value at dawn is about 80% as compared
to 60% in midafternoon. Precipitation is usually well distributed throughout
the year (Fig. 1), with a mean annual total of 1,132 mm. Brief periods
of drought occur in summer, while periods of excess moisture often occur
in winter and spring. Thunderstorms number about 47 each year, 25 of which
occur in summer. Average seasonal snowfall is 450 mm. The average annual
temperature is 13°C with an average frost-free period of 180 days.
The prevailing wind is from the south
Geology and Topography
Elevation ranges from about 200 m on the Ohio River flood plain to
about 300 m on the higher ridges around Lexington. The topography ranges
from highly dissected hills that have local relief of about 50-100 m to
undulating broad upland plains that have local relief of about 25 m. The
Bluegrass physiographic region of Kentucky lies between the Ohio River
valley in the north and the Knobs physiographic region in the south (Fig.
2). It can be divided into three distinct areas - the Inner Bluegrass,
the Hills of the Bluegrass, and the Outer Bluegrass.
The Inner Bluegrass occupies a circle in the middle of the Bluegrass
with its center near Lexington. It contains the oldest rocks exposed in
Kentucky: dominantly thick-bedded limestones of Middle Ordovician age that
were raised to their present position by uplift along the Cincinnati Arch.
It is characterized by gently rolling terrain and a thick, fertile, residual
soil. Some of the limestone strata are phosphatic, and weathering of these
rocks has enhanced the fertility of the soil. The gently rolling surface
is modified by some karst development such as sinkholes, sinking streams,
and springs. Although karst features are not as numerous or well developed
as in the Mississippian Plateaus of the Mammoth Cave area, some springs
were the sites of early settlements such as Georgetown, Harrodsburg, and
The Inner Bluegrass physiographic region is underlain by limestone of
the Cynthiana, Lexington, and High Bridge Formations. The Cynthiana Formation
is mainly limestone but is interbedded with thin layers of calcareous shale.
The High Bridge formation is along the Kentucky River gorge. It is massive
limestone, the oldest exposed rock in the state. The Lexington Formation
underlies most of the Inner Bluegrass area. It is thinbedded, shaley limestone
that is mostly phosphatic.
There are also several fault systems in the region. Most of the area
is an old eroded peneplain. In steep areas, the exposed rocks are less
resistant to weathering and have cut deep narrow valleys that have fairly
long, steep, and sharp-crested ridges. Limestone bluffs occur where short
tributary streams flow through gorges to the Kentucky River. Most surface
water in the Inner Bluegrass eventually drains into the Kentucky River.
Rock formations become progressively younger towards the boundaries
of the Inner Bluegrass region. Gentle regional inclination of the strata
carries the older rocks beneath the surface and younger ones appear. The
rocks exposed at the surface at Lexington are several thousand feet deep
at Madisonville and Pikeville.
The Hills of the Bluegrass lie in a circle separating the Inner
and Outer Bluegrass and constitute a well-dissected plateau area characterized
by narrow winding ridges and valleys. Hillsides generally slope 20 to 30%,
and surface rock is frequently present. Rock formations are Late Ordovician
in age and differ markedly in lithology from Inner Bluegrass rocks. Calcareous
shale, siltstone, and limestone of the Eden and Garrard Formations underlie
the Hills of the Bluegrass physiographic area. Many of the formations contain
interbedded shales and limestones, the youngest exposed rock in the area.
Consequently, they are softer and less resistant to erosion. Stream erosion
has cut a multitude of valleys. Hills and steep slopes dominate the landscape,
and little flat land is present. This part of the Bluegrass Region has
sometimes been called the Eden Hills Shale Belt.
The Outer Bluegrass occurs in three discontinuous arcs around
the outer perimeter of the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. It differs from
the Inner Bluegrass in that it is more rolling, but has fewer hills and
more flat land than the Hills of the Bluegrass. In the Louisville and Bardstown
areas, the topography developed on the carbonate rocks of Silurian and
Devonian ages appears similar to parts of the Bluegrass Region and is frequently
included with it. Here, again, the geology of the area affected local topographic
development. A conspicuous spring zone occurs at the base of some of the
Silurian dolomites, and some of these springs were focal points of early
distilleries in this part of Kentucky. The falls of the Ohio River with
its unique and famous coral beds is situated at the outer edge of this
The outer edges of the Bluegrass region are characteristically lowlands
with little relief being developed on shales of Mississippian and Devonian
ages. The outcrop area of Kentucky’s oil-shale deposits is in this part
of the state. These black shales, which form one of the most easily recognized
rock units in Kentucky, are of additional geologic interest because they
are the reservoir and source rocks for much of the natural gas produced
from the Big Sandy Gas Field in eastern Kentucky.
Most of MLRA 121 has been cleared of forest and at present about 45%
of the land area is in pasture. Bluegrass (which is not native to the area),
orchard grass, and fescue in mixtures with clover or bluegrass alone, are
the main pasture species. About 30% of the area is in cropland, although
acreage varies widely from county to county depending mainly on the topography.
Farms are mostly small to medium size. Burley tobacco is the main cash
crop. Corn, barley, and wheat are also grown. Red clover grass mixtures,
lespedeza, and alfalfa are the principal hay crops. Livestock uses most
of the grain, pasture, and hay produced. The Bluegrass Region is famous
for high quality livestock, especially racehorses. There are many horse
farms in the region. Straw from small-grain crops is used on horse farms
for bedding. The production of beef cattle is also significant. Dairy cattle,
sheep, and hogs are produced in fewer numbers. There are still several
small wooded areas scattered throughout the Bluegrass. The larger areas
are along river bluffs and on steeper slopes near major creeks. The forest
vegetation is mixed hardwoods. Several varieties of oak, hackberry, black
walnut, black cherry, black locust, white ash, American elm and Kentucky
coffee tree are important species. Eastern red cedar is dominant on the
drier slopes and on abandoned farmland. Urbanization is minor except around
Louisville, Cincinnati, and Lexington.
Water is present as both surface and ground water. Surface water occurs
as rivers, streams, ponds, reservoirs, and wetlands. Ground water occurs
in the pore spaces within rocks and alluvium, in fractures, and in solution
openings or conduits in areas underlain by carbonate rocks (e.g. limestone).
The median depth to ground water in the Bluegrass Region is about 6 m.
Surface water often enters or returns to the ground water system through
sinkholes and cave openings. Surface and ground water supplies are susceptible
to pollution from natural, agricultural, and industrial sources. Naturally
occurring substances such as iron, manganese, barium, fluoride, hydrogen
sulfide, and salt may be present at objectionable levels. Bacteria from
sewage, septic tanks, and animal wastes are a common problem. High levels
of nitrate-nitrogen, pesticides, and organic chemicals threaten water supplies
in some areas.
Soils in the Bluegrass Region are mainly Hapludalfs and Paleudalfs.
They are fine to moderately-fine textured, and have a mesic temperature
regime, a udic moisture regime and mixed mineralogy. The major soil associations
are Eden, Lowell-Fairmount, and Maury-McAfee (Table
1). Soil physical properties for the most commonly occurring soil series
are given in Table 2. STATSGO soils are
shown in Fig. 3.
Fig. 3. STATSGO soils of the Kentucky Bluegrass in MLRA 121.
The Eden association occurs on highly dissected hills throughout the
Bluegrass Region. The soils are moderately deep and well drained. Eden
and Culleoka soils (Udalfs) commonly occur over the Eden and Garrard Formations.
They were formed in clayey residuum from thinly bedded limestone, shale,
and siltstone. Soils of the Lowell-Fairmount association occur on rolling
ridge tops and side slopes with many dissections by small streams in the
Outer Bluegrass Region. They are deep to shallow, well drained, and formed
in clayey residuum from limestone or limestone interbedded with shale.
Lowell and Faywood soils (Udalfs) overlie the Cynthiana Formation. The
Maury-McAfee association consists of deep to moderately deep, well drained,
soils formed in clayey limestone residuum. They occur on upland plains
with some karst areas and dissections in the Inner Bluegrass Region. Maury
and McAfee soils (Udalfs), generally medium to high in phosphate, commonly
occur over the Lexington Formation. Other minor soils in the area include
Loradale and Fairmount (Udolls), Mercer, Salvisa, and Donerail (Udalfs)
in upland landscapes, and Huntington and Woolper (Udolls), Melvin (Aquents),
Nolin (Ochrepts), Elk, and Ashton (Udalfs) on lowland and floodplain positions.
Transport of Water and Contaminants:
Case Studies Water
One of the unique characteristics of some soils in the Bluegrass Region
is an unusually high total porosity for their textural classification,
which promotes rapid, preferential flow of water and contaminants. Cracks
form between ped faces in the blocky and angular blocky structures common
to these soils. Old root channels and worm holes also contribute to the
total porosity. Porosity is strongly influenced by landuse; for example,
values of porosity ranged from 0.36 to 0.52 in the surface 10 cm of a Maury
soil subjected to different tillage management practices (Fig. 4). As total
porosity increases, both the frequency and the number of connections between
macropores can be expected to increase. As a result, saturated hydraulic
conductivity increases as a power law function of porosity (Fig. 4). Even
though soils in this MLRA are normally only saturated for relatively short
periods of time, saturated hydraulic conductivity is still an important
measurement since a large proportion of the total annual water movement
through the vadose zone occurs during these events. This is because the
ability of the soil to conduct water declines precipitously as the profile
The spatial variability of water fluxes through large undisturbed blocks
of Maury and Nolin soils has been documented by Quisenberry et al. (1994)
and Phillips et al. (1995). These authors showed that a large fraction
of the water moves through a relatively small areal percentage of the pore
space, regardless of application rate. The non-random distribution of fluxes
was interpreted as evidence of preferential flow through a continuous network
of tortuous and interconnected macropores. The extent of preferential flow
in such experiments can be evaluated by plotting cumulative effluent volume
vs. cumulative pore area (Bowman, et al., 1994). Theoretically, if leaching
were homogeneous, the resulting plot would be linear as indicated by the
straight line in Fig. 5. However, if preferential flow occurs, the response
will be curvilinear as indicated by the observed data (open circles) in
Fig. 6. Note that over 90% of the effluent drained through less than 50%
of the pore area. Additional information on the hydrology of the Maury
soil can be found in Cassel (1985) and Römkens et al. (1985).
Perfect et al. (1998) measured steady-state transport of water, chloride,
and bacteria through intact blocks of Maury soil under partially saturated
conditions. Three replicate blocks from each of two landuse treatments,
conventional-till (disk) corn production, and grass pasture were investigated.
The blocks were mounted on a vacuum chamber maintained at –2.0 kPa. Water
was supplied to the soil surface with a rainfall simulator at a rate of
1 cm/hr. Volumetric water contents and bulk electrical conductivities were
measured at three depths, 5, 15, and 25 cm using time-domain reflectometry
(TDR). When steady-state flow was achieved, the concentrations of chloride
and E. coli bacteria in the water supply were increased in a stepwise
fashion, and the resulting breakthrough curves measured over time. The
chloride breakthrough curves (calculated from the bulk electrical conductivity
data) were fitted to the convection dispersion equation (CDE) using CXTFIT
(Toride et al., 1995). The parameters of the CDE are the dispersion coefficient
(D) and the average pore water velocity (v). These parameters were combined
to give the dispersivity defined as D/v. The goodness of fit for these
analyses (R2 generally > 0.9) indicates the CDE was applicable
to the flow conditions in these experiments.
Figure 6 shows typical chloride breakthrough curves measured with the
TDR probes as a function of depth. Being closest to the source of the high-conductivity
solution, the 5-cm TDR probe was the first to increase after the step increase
in chloride concentration. Subsequent increases were observed at the 15-
and 25-cm depths. The curves became more S-shaped as the solute moved further
from the source and deeper into the soil.
Table 3 presents the results of the CXTFIT parameter estimation procedure
for the TDR data. Dispersivities ranged from just above 1 to nearly 10
cm and decreased with depth. There was no evidence of any interaction between
depth and landuse. Regression analysis revealed a significant effect of
volumetric water content on dispersivity, with dispersivity decreasing
with increasing water content. Lower water contents lead to more tortuous
flow paths and a broadening of the velocity distribution. Thus, any structural
effects on solute dispersion in unsaturated soils subjected to initial
and boundary conditions similar to those in these experiments are likely
to be indirect, and can probably be related to differences in water content
at a given flow rate produced by differences in pore-size distribution.
Additional chloride breakthrough curves can be found in McMahon and
Thomas (1974) and White et al. (1984) for disturbed (sieved and repacked)
and undisturbed samples of Maury and Eden soils. These authors also measured
break-through of tritiated water. Breakthrough curves for the disturbed
samples were S-shaped and typical of low dispersivity, while those for
the undisturbed samples were asymmetrical and indicative of high dispersivity.
The apparent velocity of Cl was greater than that for 3HOH,
which is consistent with anion exclusion by the soil matrix. Initial breakthrough
appeared to be more rapid in the Eden soil than in the Maury soil, suggesting
greater structural development for the silty clay loam than for the silt
loam. Initial breakthrough was between 1.5 and 2 times faster in the undisturbed
samples than in the disturbed samples for both soils, despite higher bulk
densities for the undisturbed samples (McMahon and Thomas, 1974). The shape
of the breakthrough curve was related to the application rate and initial
water content. For the undisturbed Maury soil, the time required to reach
C/Co =0.5 increased with decreasing application rate (Table 1 in White
et al., 1984). The breakthrough curves became more asymmetric, as indicated
by high C/Co values at early times (Fig. 2 in White et al., 1984), as the
initial water content decreased. This trend indicates increasing dispersivity
with decreasing initial water content, which is consistent with the results
of Perfect et al. (1998).
A typical breakthrough curve for E. coli bacteria in Maury soil
under partially saturated conditions is given in Fig. 7. Additional bacterial
breakthrough curves for Maury soil can be found in Smith et al. (1985).
Clearly, the response to a step increase in bacteria is very different
to that for Cl. Most of the bacteria are trapped within the soil matrix,
so the maximum relative concentration in the effluent is very low (approximately
10-3 ). Instead of increasing from zero to 1 over time, the
C/Co for bacteria remains relatively constant with increasing effluent
volume. However, this constant value is established very early on, suggesting
that transport occurs through continuous macropores. Further evidence of
preferential transport of bacteria can be seen in Table
3 of Smith et al. (1985), which shows that sieving and repacking the
soil, destroying macropore continuity, can reduce C/C o by up to two orders
Herbicides and Heavy Metals
Seta and Karathanasis (1996a,b; 1997a,b) have conducted a series of
intact soil column experiments with Maury (Udalf) and Loradale (Udoll)
soils to assess the role of water dispersible soil colloids, with diverse
physicochemical and mineralogical composition, in co-transporting selected
herbicides and heavy metals through the upper solum. Another objective
of their experiments was to identify the colloid, soil, and solution properties
facilitating or hindering contaminant transportability.
Water dispersible colloids were fractionated from Bt horizons of six
soil series with montmorillonitic, mixed, illitic, and kaolinitic mineralogy.
Colloid suspensions of 300 mg/L were mixed with 2 mg/L of atrazine or metolachlor,
or 10 mg/L of copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), or lead (Pb) and introduced into
duplicate undisturbed soil columns at constant flux. The eluents were collected
and analyzed periodically for colloid, herbicide, and metal concentrations.
Batch equilibrium isotherm experiments were also conducted to evaluate
the herbicide/metal adsorption capacity of the colloids.
The transport of both herbicides was enhanced in the presence of water-dispersible
soil colloids. The observed increase was 2 to 18% for atrazine and 8 to
30% for metolachlor. The greater increase in metolachlor transport is probably
due to its 4- to 7-fold greater affinity for colloid surfaces as indicated
from equilibrium adsorption isotherms. However, a significant portion of
the eluted herbicide load was mainly due to exclusion of soluble herbicide
species from matrix surface sites blocked by colloids rather than actual
transport of colloid-bound herbicide. Therefore, in this process, the colloids
appear to act mostly as facilitators rather than as carriers. The amount
of extra herbicide transported in the presence of colloids varied with
colloid type and transportability (Fig. 8). Colloids with higher surface
area, pH, electrophoretic mobility, organic carbon, and smectite content
showed greater potential for co-transporting herbicides. In contrast, high
amounts of kaolinite, iron (Fe), and Al hydroxides inhibited co-transportability.
The type of soil column also influenced herbicide recoveries in the eluent.
Maury soil columns with a better macropore system (high hydraulic conductivity)
and lower surface area enhanced herbicide co-transportability.
Metal transport was also enhanced in the presence of water dispersible
soil colloids by an average of 10- to 30-fold, but the increase was colloid
and metal specific (Figs. 9 and 10). Cu and Zn co-transportability in the
presence of colloids was greater than that of the controls, 2 to 150 and
5 to 30 times, respectively. For Pb, there was essentially no (or very
little) elution of metals in the absence of colloids, suggesting nearly
complete sorption by the column matrix. In the presence of colloids, Pb
transportability ranged from 8 to 3,000 times that of the control. In most
cases, nearly 90% of the increase in metal transport in the presence of
colloids was due to colloid-bound metal phases and the remaining due to
colloid-metal-matrix exclusion processes.
Increasing the metal concentration in the colloid suspension beyond
10 mg/L hindered metal-colloid transport through the columns due to coagulation,
flocculation, flow retardation, and pore clogging. Although colloids with
high amounts of 2:1 minerals and organic carbon content generally showed
increased metal sorption and co-transportability, the quantitative correlations
were not always consistent. In some cases, increased soil organic carbon
contents (Loradale soil) appeared to overshadow the effects of macroporosity
(Maury soil) on the transport of specific metals.
Karathanasis (1999,2000) also investigated the potential of water-dispersible
soil colloids to desorb Pb and contaminated soil matrix surfaces and co-transport
it to groundwater. The study involved leaching experiments using intact
soil columns contaminated with Pb and colloid suspensions of different
mineralogical composition, with deionized water used as a control. The
soil columns represented upper solum horizons of Maury and Loradale soils
with contrasting macroporosity and organic carbon contents. The soil colloids
were fractionated from low ionic strength Bt horizons of Alfisols with
montmorillonitic, mixed, and illitic mineralogy and variable physicochemical
and surface charge properties. The results indicated a sharp decrease,
to near zero, of Pb desorbed by deionized water-flushing solutions after
3 pore volumes of leaching, but a continuous desorption and transport of
Pb in the presence of colloids. The colloid-induced desorption and remobilization
of Pb was in the range of 10 to 60% of the initial eluent Pb concentration,
and it was 20 to 30% greater through the Maury than the Loradale soil columns.
Colloids with high surface charge (montmorillonitic) and organic carbon
content showed a greater Pb desorption and transport potential, but the
amount of remobilized Pb was the result of contributions by both ion exchange
and physical exclusion processes.
Barton and Karathanasis (1998) also evaluated the role of soil colloids
and their potential to co-transport of contaminants through large soil
monoliths under field conditions. The monoliths were formed by hydraulically
driving steel pipe sections (50-cm diameter x 80-cm length) into Maury
and Loradale soils with contrasting physicochemical characteristics. Water
dispersible colloids were fractionated from the same soils, spiked with
atrazine and Zn, and introduced into the monoliths at six-hour intervals
using 500-ml pulse applications. Atrazine and Zn solutions with no colloid
were applied to monoliths from each series to represent the control treatment.
Eluents from the monoliths were collected and analyzed periodically for
colloid, atrazine, and Zn concentration in the soluble and sorbed phase.
Colloid, atrazine, and Zn recoveries varied greatly with respect to
soil type. Colloid recovery in the Loradale soil consistently exceeded
20% and approached 60%, while the Maury soil rarely exhibited recoveries
greater than 5%. The presence of colloid in the Loradale eluent enhanced
atrazine transport by 40% and Zn transport by 50% over that of the control
treatment. In the Maury soil, however, colloid-mediated transport of atrazine
was observed only when colloid recoveries exceeded 5%, and the transport
of Zn was no different than that observed for the control. Apparently,
retardation of atrazine and Zn within the soil matrix increased as the
transportability of the Maury colloid was deterred. A settling-rate experiment,
performed at varying pH and conductivity (EC) levels, revealed that Maury
colloids may flocculate under the pH and EC conditions developed during
the leaching process due to resolubilization of Mn, while Loradale colloids
The results of these studies confirm that the currently widely used
two-phase transport models may significantly underestimate herbicide and
heavy metal transport through the vadose zone. Therefore, incorporation
of the mobile colloid phase is necessary in order to improve predictions.
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of atrazine and Zn through large soil monoliths Abstracts, American Society
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region - summary of in situ unsaturated hydraulic conductivity.
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by soil colloids. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 63:830-838.
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