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Critical Issues in Global Soil Health

Soil health is rarely equated into discussions of climate change, environmental protection, and sustainable development.

However, soils play such a vital role in the planet’s survival that life cannot exist without them. They provide the basis for food and fiber production; support a diversity of plant, animal, and microbial life; and regulate nutrient cycles and gas exchange with the atmosphere.

The changes that are affecting our planet also have a detrimental impact on our soil. The Dust Bowl era of the 1930s perfectly exemplifies the devastating impact of soil depletion. Millions of acres of land were damaged and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced because careless agricultural practices and failure to respect the role of soil. While the debate continues as to whether these current changes to the global environment are natural or the result of an ever increasing human population, there is a critical need to address the future health of global soils.

A team of researchers representing the 2008 Emerging Issues in Soil Science Committee of the Soil Science Society of America identified the most important questions that future generations will face when dealing with changes in soil structure. These questions will serve as a guide for direction of soil science research.

Eight issues were identified by the researchers including demands for food, water, nutrients, and energy, and the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, biological waste recycling, and global resource equity.

According to the authors, addressing these key issues effectively will require a four-step approach which includes, “refocusing research to the most urgent problems, broadening their vision from soil to entire ecosystems, enticing young scientists to pursue careers in the field, and improving soil science's image problem with better stories of its past successes and future prospects.”

The authors hope the study will help steer soil science research in the necessary direction and prompt future discussions on preserving our planets soils.

In addition, SSSA has identified research priority areas and critical knowledge gaps to guide interdisciplinary soil science research for the next 20 years and beyond. View the Grand Challenges online, at:

A full study authored by the team of researchers is available in the January/ February 2011 issue of Soil Science Society of America Journal.

Sara Uttech | Newswise Science News
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