The writers would like to touch briefly on some recent North American development in peat classification and testing. In 1979, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), formed a sub-committee on peats and organic soils. Its mandate was to develop standards for geotechnical, energy and horticultural purposes. One of the committee's first tasks was to develop a method for distinguishing peats from other organic soils. Their conclusion was that an organic soil should not be called a peat unless its organic content was 75% or greater.
The next logical step in the process was to develop a geotechnical classification system for peats (as they are defined above). In 1984 the writers developed a simple system of descriptions and engineering correlations. To date several North American organizations have used the system and provided their comments. Comments from overseas are also welcome at any time. Steps in the descriptive process are determination of:
degree of humification by the Von Post method
basic fibre details.
No botanical knowledge is required to use the system. Simple descriptions such as black, amorphous peat (H6) or brown nonwoody fine fibrous peat (H2), result.
Although it is recognized that morphology is an important aspect of the engineering properties of peatlands, only certain aspects have been incorporated into a simplistic classification system. Based on our experience, only on rare occasions would an ecologist be consulted to examine a peat profile for engineering applications. It is agreed, however, that engineers need to acquire additional skills in