Bulk density is a property of powders, granules, and other "divided" solids, especially used in reference to mineral components (soil, gravel), chemical substances, (pharmaceutical) ingredients, foodstuff, or any other masses of corpuscular or particulate matter. It is defined as the mass of many particles of the material divided by the total volume they occupy. The total volume includes particle volume, inter-particle void volume, and internal pore volume.
Bulk density is not an intrinsic property of a material; it can change depending on how the material is handled. For example, a powder poured into a cylinder will have a particular bulk density; if the cylinder is disturbed, the powder particles will move and usually settle closer together, resulting in a higher bulk density. For this reason, the bulk density of powders is usually reported both as "freely settled" (or "poured" density) and "tapped" density (where the tapped density refers to the bulk density of the powder after a specified compaction process, usually involving vibration of the container.)
The bulk density of soil depends greatly on the mineral make up of soil and the degree of compaction. The density of quartz is around 2.65 g/cm³ but the (dry) bulk density of a mineral soil is normally about half that density, between 1.0 and 1.6 g/cm³. Soils high in organics and some friable clay may have a bulk density well below 1 g/cm³.
Bulk density of soil is usually determined from a core sample which is taken by driving a metal corer into the soil at the desired depth and horizon. This gives a soil sample of known total volume, . From this sample the wet bulk density and the dry bulk density can be determined.
For the wet bulk density (total bulk density) this sample is weighed, giving the mass . For the dry bulk density, the sample is oven dried and weighed, giving the mass of soil solids, . The relationship between these two masses is , where is the mass of substances lost on oven drying (often, mostly water). The dry and wet bulk densities are calculated as
Dry bulk density = mass of soil/ volume as a whole
Wet bulk density = mass of soil plus liquids/ volume as a whole
The dry bulk density of a soil is inversely related to the porosity of the same soil: the more pore space in a soil the lower the value for bulk density. Bulk density of a region in the interior of the earth is also related to the seismic velocity of waves travelling through it: for P-waves, this has been quantified with Gardner's relation. The higher the density, the faster the velocity.
- Brazil nut effect
- Characterisation of pore space in soil
- Effective porosity
- Particle density
- Page 50 in Buckman, Harry O.; Brady, Nyle C. (1960), The Nature and Property of Soils - A College Text of Edaphology (6th ed.), New York: MacMillan Publishers, New York, NY
- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service "Soil quality indicators -- Bulk density" retrieved May 26, 2012
- Argonne National Lab "RESRAD Data collection handbook, chapter 2 -- Soil density" retrieved May 26, 2012