There is no time since the dawn of agriculture nearly 10,000 years ago that soil and its management is more important to human survival. Erosion continues faster than renewal, global warming is causing soil microbes to release greenhouse gases that further accentuate climate change. Most importantly, we have already exploited the Earth's most productive soils. We have no where else to go, and we must rapidly develop ways of sustainably managing and living with the global soil resources we now have.
It is also an exciting time to study soil. Advances in chemistry, remote sensing, physics, and other fields are being applied creatively to identify the role of soil in societally relevant issues. Beyond these immediate needs, there are deep and challenging questions about the feedbacks between biota and soils, soils and biology at the limits of life on Earth, and the soils of Mars and what they tell us about the climate history of our near neighbor. While these later topics may not impact our short term survival on Earth, they are part of human's unique quest to learn about our place in the cosmos, and a part of a continuing lesson: we need to live within the limits of a small fragile dot in space.
About soil and the environment
Soil in the news
Why We Should March for Science
The summer rains on our farm in South Dakota carved rills and gullies in the soil as the water cascaded down small streams to the bottom of the hills. Even as a teenager, I knew that the soil removed by these streams, and the farming practice that allowed it, was unsustainable. Watching the devastation year after year inspired me to become a soil scientist, so that I might somehow have a role in conserving and enhancing one of our nation’s most important strategic resources.
Soil minerals provide high resolution paleoclimate record of continents
Hundred-year-old trees are impressive, but thousand-year-old rocks may be more significant when looking for long-term climate clues. On Monday, UC Berkeley soil scientists published evidence of growth rings on rocks similar to rings on trees.
The scientists specifically evaluated soil that formed thin rings around gravel and pebbles. The deposits were so thin, in fact, that some were no more than 3 millimeters thick.These carbonates in soil covering the rocks act as temperature and rain indicators.
“There is a mineral that accumulates steadily and creates some of the most detailed information to date on the Earth’s past climates,” says senior author Ronald Amundson, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management.
Soil and human history
The arid Atacama Desert, thought to be a barrier to early South American settlers, may have held lakes large enough to sustain small human populations, according to new research presented here today. The lakes' presence challenges the current understanding of the paths early settlers took to explore and settle South America, according to the researchers.