Sustenance from Soil

Sustenance from Soil

Soil is one of the four elements upon which life on earth depends; soil, water, air and sunlight. 2015 has been declared the International Year of Soils (IYS) by the U.N., and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) has organized themes for each month in an effort to further highlight the need for soil preservation and help educational outreach.

Soil is essential for life as we know it, and though its vital role may go unnoticed and, at the very least, under appreciated, soil is necessary for the production of our food, shelter and clothing. Thought it may not appear so, soil is alive and has taken millions of year to form at the Earth’s surface. This dynamic resource changes over time; parent materials transform into soils which can then be carried through moving and flooding rivers, and moved by advancing or retreating glaciers and wind.

Parent materials, such as bedrock, are transformed into soil by sun, wind, ice, water and dependent organisms who remove and add nutrients and microbes. Precipitation contributes water to soil and the breakdown of rocks will add minerals, over time. The movement by natural forces, additions and removals of nutrients and organic matter drive the constant change seen and felt in soils. However, soil remains an environment teeming with life; there are more organisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are people in the planet. Soil and its organisms have a special relationship which provides many benefits to the planet.

Theses “ecosystem services” provided by soil and its inhabitants provide the human population with a medium for agriculture, materials with which to build our homes and infrastructure for recreation. These are called “provisioning services”, describing how the soil literally provides for us.

Soils perform “regulating ecosystem services” as well, this describes how it interacts with other environmental elements and reacts to change. Soil acts as a physical filter cleaning huge amounts of water on Earth, microbes and plants assist with biological and chemical cleansing. Soil also operates as a carbon sink, and research is ongoing to find out ways to increase the storage capacity and whether it can absorb other important greenhouse gases. 

This precious natural resource provides products and regulates our environment, the planet and population cannot function in the absence of soil. The SSSA has made January’s theme “Soils Sustain Life” in order to emphasize how crucial soil is to life on Earth and promote soil preservation. For more information on the International Year of Soils and the SSSA’s monthly themes visit: http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/about/en/.