It seems fitting to chat about the importance of soil on Earth Day. Over 75 years ago, Henry A. Wallace, United States Secretary of Agriculture, said,
“People in cities may forget the soil for as long as hundred years, but Mother Nature’s memory is long and she will not let them forget indefinitely.”
Soil is essential to life — people and other living beings – as well as Earth itself. I have listed the many ways that soil affects our lives and our planet.
Earth Day 2014 Highlight: Soil’s functions in our lives
- Most of our food comes from the soil. According to the FAO, over 99 percent of our foods come from our soil. Soil is vital to us. We can’t live without food!
- Most of our fibre – cotton, timber, hides, wool – depends on soil.
- Many of our antibiotics come from the soil.
- We dispose our wastes in our soil. Think landfills. Our use of the soil as a dumping ground has many negative environmental consequences. We need to rethink this one.
- Soils are also the base beneath most of our homes and roads.
- Soils are important source of building materials, such as adobe and brick.
Earth Day 2014 Highlight: Soil’s functions in our ecosystem
Soil plays a major role in the ecological functioning of the planet. A few of soil’s ecological roles include:
Carbon Recycler: Soil plays a key role in climate change. Soil organic matter is one of the major pools of carbon. Soil humus contains two times more carbon than the atmosphere, and the soil organic carbon reservoir as three times more carbon than the entire world’s vegetation. Soil’s carbon soil is implicated as a driver in climatic change. Soil acts as both as a source and sink of carbon. More on this on Science Daily: Researchers improve soil carbon cycling models
Nutrient recycler: Although, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, come from carbon dioxide and water, the remaining 13 nutrients essential for plant growth come from the soil.
Water filter: Wetlands (bogs, marshes and swamps) are good water filters, removing impurities such as pesticides and nitrates.
Water storage: Groundwater (aquifers) as well as water stored in the spaces between soil particles is essential for agriculture and gardening.
Unfortunately, many of us either aren’t aware of the soil or take soil for granted. Many of our actions (industrial activity, agriculture, gardening and forestry) as well as natural occurrences (ie. hurricanes & tornados) have the potential to damage soil. Degraded soil includes soil erosion; desertification; chemical and microbiological pollution of soil and water; soil acidification; soil compaction; and soil organic matter depletion. Yikes!
So on this Earth Day 2014, let us remember the importance of soil in our lives. Life as we know it wouldn’t exist without soil. Soil matters. Our well being, as well as Earth, depends on how to manage our soil and keep it healthy.
American Geological Institute & Soil Science Society of America. 1999 Sustaining our Soils and Society.
I invite you to continue your soil journey on Twitter’s #groundchat. We chat about soil-related topic every Friday at 2 pm EST.