Cation exchange capacity (CEC)

Cation exchange capacity should be thought of as the soil’s ability to remove cations from the soil water solution and sequester those to be exchanged later as the plant roots release hydrogen ions to the solution. CEC is the amount of exchangeable hydrogen cation (H+) that will combine with 100 grams dry weight of soil and whose measure is one milliequivalents per 100 grams of soil (1 meq/100 g). Hydrogen ions have a single charge and one-thousandth of a gram of hydrogen ions per 100 grams dry soil gives a measure of one milliequivalent of hydrogen ion. Calcium, with an atomic weight 40 times that of hydrogen and with a valence of two, converts to (40/2) x 1 milliequivalent = 20 milliequivalents of hydrogen ion per 100 grams of dry soil or 20 meq/100 g. The modern measure of CEC is expressed as centimoles of positive charge per kilogram (cmol/kg) of oven-dry soil.
Most of the soil’s CEC occurs on clay and humus colloids, and the lack of those in hot, humid, wet climates, due to leaching and decomposition respectively, explains the relative sterility of tropical soils.

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