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Countdown to World Soil Day

World map made from soil.

Post #27: Happy World Soil Day

December 5—Thanks to all who have gone on this journey with us into the wonderful world of soil. Our goal was to introduce and explore various aspects of soils and soil science. Hopefully, we have piqued your interest so much that you will continue learning why we have a responsibility to know and respect the ground we walk on. Happy World Soil Day!

(Link: Happy World Soil Day video)

   
Students walking on a college campus.

Post #26: The Future

December 4—College students majoring in a science associated with the environment or natural resources have a stake in the future. Two seniors from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln speak about the future of soil science.

(Link: Comments from College Students)

Dave Hoover, Linda Greene, and Buz Kloot from the video series, Soils at the Center

Post #25: Soil Professionals at the Center

December 3—Take a few minutes to meet four people who are making a difference in the world of soil science. Four people who contribute, in a variety of ways, to important outcomes that result in healthy soils. Four people with diverse backgrounds both personally and professionally. Four people who want you to understand the importance of soil and what it means to your everyday experiences. As current and former employees of the National Soil Survey Center, they each have a story to tell regarding what they do and why they do it.

(Link: Soil at the Center playlist)

The National Wetlands Condition Assessment project allowed the KSSL to come into contact with a broader menagerie of soil properties – and colors – than they are used to seeing in pedons from a particular area.

Post #24: Partnership

November 30—The Kellogg Soil Survey Laboratory (KSSL) recently completed its participation in the EPA National Wetland Condition Assessment directed by Congress. For this project, wetlands at more than 1,000 representative sites throughout the United States were inventoried to determine their health and to identify factors that may be having a negative impact on their functioning.

(Link: EPA National Wetland Condition Assessment)

Photo of Horace Smith.

Post #23: History Makers

November 29—Horace Smith was the first African-American Director of the Soil Survey Division. He spent his entire professional career with the Soil Conservation Service. As a young soil scientist, Smith surveyed the soils in the District of Columbia. During this time, he established new methods and standards that continue to be the gold standard for today’s urban mapping. During his tenure as Director, Smith provided leadership for the National Cooperative Soil Survey, the National Soil Survey Center, and the Soil Quality Institute as well as effectively led the Division into the Internet Age with the digitization of all soil surveys. The digitizing effort ultimately led to the development of the successful Web-based application known as the Web Soil Survey.

(Link: Celebrating “The First” Black Men to Lead the Agency)

Map of Wisconsin Commodity Crop Productivity Index for corn.

Post #22: Interpretations

November 28—Interpretations use soil survey data to predict the impact of soil properties on land use (such as farmland, building sites, and recreational areas). Soil properties include sand, silt, and clay content; pH; organic matter content; slope; and shrink-swell potential. Some models for interpretations use rule-based fuzzy logic systems. The Wisconsin Crop Productivity Index is one interpretation based on fuzzy systems.

(Link: An Introduction to Fuzzy Systems)

Hydric Soils training.

Post #21: Training

November 27—Learning on the job is part of being a soil scientist. Each day presents a challenge, and each day soil scientists learn more. Did you know that NRCS has developed more than 200 on-the-job (OJT) training modules for soil scientists and others? The training provides practical support for land management decisions.

(Link: List of OJT Topics)

Soil scientist working in the Kellogg Soil Survey Laboratory.

Post #20: Kellogg Soil Survey Laboratory

November 26—The Charles E. Kellogg Soil Survey Laboratory (KSSL) is the key source for soil analytical data for the National Cooperative Soil Survey (NCSS). Their mission is to measure soil properties that are critical to soil survey and conservation efforts. Data for these properties contribute to decisions concerning best use and management of soils.

(Links: Soil Research and Laboratory and Tour the Laboratory)

Site Selection for Growing Wine Grapes graphic.

Post #19: Soil and the Wine Industry

November 21—Vineyards illustrate the importance of soils for a variety of economic uses. The characteristics of the soil are critical to the terroir, or environmental context, of great wines.

The wine industry has experienced remarkable growth in the past 10 years. As a result, tools have been developed that use the soil survey database to locate areas that are well suited to certain wine grape varieties. These tools quantify the suitability of sites for 12 sets of grape varieties. Identifying these site presents a unique challenge because absolute yield is not the measure of success for a vineyard. The production of desirable wine grapes does not necessarily require the most productive soils. It needs a combination of certain soil, site, and climatic characteristics. This interaction results in the terroir of a vineyard.

(Link: Site Selection for Growing Wine Grapes poster)

Thumbnail of Valley Fever poster.

Post #18: Valley Fever

November 20—In some cases, soil can be dangerous. One hazard is human sickness caused by soil-borne pathogens. Valley fever is a disease caused by a fungus that lives in hot, dry, salty soils. The fungal spores are released by ground-disturbing activities and can be carried by the wind. Symptoms generally range from none to flu-like but the disease may cause death in those with compromised immunity. The soil and climatic conditions suitable for the fungus are common in California’s San Joaquin Valley and in the valleys around Phoenix, Arizona. A system, or model, that uses the soil survey database has been developed to locate areas where the fungus may exist. The maps are detailed enough that likely hotspots can be identified. The model also predicts isolated niches of soils and climates that are suitable for the fungus, some of which are far from where the disease commonly occurs.

(Link: Modeling and Mapping of Coccidioides Soil Habitat poster)

Participants examine a simulated hidden ‘grave site' during a clandestine grave and human remains recovery training. Photo by Airman 1st Class Allison Payne.

Post #17: Forensic Soil Science

November 19—If you think soil science is boring, you may be surprised. For example, soils, because of their diverse properties and characteristics, can be used as evidence in criminal investigations.

(Read more about Forensic Soil Science)

Screen capture from Web Soil Survey.

Post #16: Free Application

November 16—Web Soil Survey (WSS) is a free application designed to assist in land use decisions. You can view the three-part YouTube playlist for information on using the WSS. This information is provided by the Soils Hotline staff at the National Soil Survey Center. The playlist covers Applications Access, Setting the Area of Interest (AOI), and Tabs and Downloads. Click on the link and try it out!

(Link: Using Web Soil Survey)
Photo of Guy Smith.

Post #15: History Makers

November 15—Dr. Guy Smith, known as the “Father of Soil Taxonomy,” was a distinguished international soil scientist and world-renowned pedologist. He joined the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in Iowa and later took a position at SCS headquarters in Washington, DC. In 1952, he was named Director of Soil Survey Investigations. As part of his duties, he traveled the world studying and describing soils. In 1975, Dr. Smith published Soil Taxonomy, the culmination of 23 years of leadership towards the development of a new comprehensive system of soil classification. This work brought him widespread international recognition.

(Link: Soil Classification)
Scientists performing a coastal zone soil survey.

Post #14: Coastal Zone Soil Surveys

November 14—In soil survey, not all focus is on agricultural land. Just as terrestrial soils support agriculture, subaqueous soils support aquaculture. Coastal zone soil surveys (CZSS) are needed to provide valuable information for planning and managing important coastal areas. These areas typically are ecologically significant and potentially exposed to great hazards. Coastal areas that are healthy and intact provide valuable services.

(Links: CZSS Team Page and CZSS Fact Sheet)
Thumbnail of the Inch of Soil poster.

Post #13: Protect Every Inch of Soil

November 13—We need to take the time to protect the soil. In the period it took to form 1 inch of soil, innumerable important events took place, not the least of which were John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland in 1497, the invention of the toothbrush by a Chinese dentist in 1498, and Edmund Halley’s observation of the Great Comet (which is later named for him) in 1682. These are just a few of the major events; the list is almost endless. If you want to learn more about what was happening while an inch of soil was being made, you can get a free copy of the poster at the link below.

(Link: Inch of Soil poster)
Profile and distribution map of Alabama's State Soil.

Post #12: State Soils

November 9—Did you know that each state has its own State Soil? A state soil is a soil that has special significance to a particular state. Each state in the United States has selected a state soil, twenty of which have been legislatively established. These “Official State Soils” share the same level of distinction as official state flowers and birds.

(Links: State Soils factsheets and Smithsonian interactive version)

Photo of Charles Kellogg from 1948.Post #11: History Makers

November 8—Dr. Charles Edwin Kellogg had one of the most distinguished careers in the history of soil science. It was marked by his dedication to assist land users through knowledge of soil and the use of soil surveys. He accomplished that objective by redirecting and redefining the soil survey program of the Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, which he supervised from 1934 to 1971. His legacy continues in the work of soil scientists around the world.

“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil ... There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” —Charles E. Kellogg

(Link: Biography of Charles Kellogg)

Thumbnail of a poster on liquefaction.

Post #10: Liquefaction

November 7—If you live near earthquake-prone locations, you need to know and understand an interesting phenomenon known as soil liquefaction. It is the process by which water saturated soil material loses its strength and can flow as a liquid. The main triggers of this phenomenon are earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater. In fact, much of the damage that occurs as a result of earthquakes is due to liquefaction. The soil survey database can be used to map out areas where the soil and site conditions are correlated with soil liquefaction. In the United States, this includes parts of the San Francisco Bay area and the Gulf Coast. The sediments along the Mississippi are also projected to be susceptible to liquefaction.

(Link: Predicting Soil Liquefaction Using Soil Survey Data poster)

Photo of road damage from an earthquake.

Post #9: Soil Risks and Hazards

November 6—Understanding soil risks and hazards is important to anyone making land use decisions—such as choosing a site for a home, community road, or school. Locating facilities in areas with excessive risk contributes to loss of life, health, and property. Learning about and understanding soil conditions is important to everyone.

(Link: Understanding Soil Risks and Hazards)

Photo of hands holding a seedling.

Post #8: Soil Facts

November 5—

  • The American Midwest has the largest area of prime farmland soils in the world.
  • About 20% of the land in the U.S. is used to grow crops.
  • A tablespoon of soil contains more micro-organisms than the number of people on earth.
  • The U.S. has more than 20,000 soil series.
  • Clays, the smallest particles making up soil, are less than 1/12,000 inch in diameter. A single teaspoon will hold more clay particles than there are people on the earth.

(Link: Soil 101 video from FAO)

Community garden in a city.Post #7: Urban Soil Needs Our Attention

November 2—According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 81 percent of the nation’s population lives in urban areas. This fact alone is enough to justify the need to identify, describe, and map urban soils to modern standards.

Detailed, modern information on soils can help city planners determine the best land uses and management practices. This information can directly serve the public and strongly impact human health and quality of life.

(Links: Urban Soils and Urban Soil Primer)

Cathy Seybold working at Bull Pass Soil Climate Research Station (Antarctica).

Post #6: Exciting Work!

November 1—Not all soil scientists are driving around in pickup trucks, digging holes, and mapping land. Life can get pretty exciting if you are one of those soil scientists who are looking for adventure. If that is the case, then talking to Cathy Seybold is a good idea. Once a year, for 10 days or so, her job takes her to Antarctica.

(Read Cathy’s story)

Photo of a soil scientist looking at the color of the soil.Post #5: What is Soil Survey?

October 31—Soil survey is (1) The systematic examination, description, classification, and mapping of soils in an area. Soil surveys are classified according to the kind and intensity of field examination. (2) The program of the National Cooperative Soil Survey that includes developing and implementing standards for describing, classifying, mapping, writing, and publishing information about soils of a specific area. (From the Soil Science Society of America.)

(Link to additional information)

Milton Whitney (Chief of Bureau of Soils), 1910��1919. Travis P. Hignett Collection of Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory Photographs, Box 3. Science History Institute. Philadelphia.Post #4: History Makers

October 24—The science of soils gained influence in large measure due to the vision of the early soil scientists whose commitment resulted in the agricultural productivity that we enjoy today. Milton Whitney was one of the earliest and most influential scientists. He was appointed the first Chief of the Division of Agricultural Soils in 1894. Whitney was responsible for establishing a national soil survey and expanding the range of soils investigations within USDA. His initiatives resulted in acceptance of the notion that understanding soils was the key to improving agricultural productivity. This acceptance resulted in a long-term commitment to soil science and to soil survey activities. Ultimately, it led to the primary mission of the USDA-NRCS Soil Science Division.

(Link: Biography of Milton Whitney)

Screenshot from the YouTube video.

Post #3: World Soil Day—A Day In The Life

October 17—As we countdown to World Soil Day on December 5th and learn more about the importance of soil, you might wonder what a soil scientist’s day is like. “A Soil Scientist’s Perspective” will give you a bird’s eye view of the work being done on behalf of soil and the benefits to you—the consumer.

(Link: Careers in Soil Science)

World Soil Day celebration in Thailand.Post #2: World Soil Day—How Did It Start?

October 10—In 2002, the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) adopted a resolution proposing what would become World Soil Day. The resolution was intended to celebrate the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to human well-being.

Under the leadership of the Kingdom of Thailand and within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) supported the formal establishment of World Soil Day as a global-awareness-raising platform. In June 2013, the FAO Conference unanimously endorsed World Soil Day and requested official adoption at the 68th UN General Assembly.

In December 2013, the 68th UN General Assembly declared the 5th of December as World Soil Day. This date was chosen to honor the official birthday of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, who officially sanctioned the event.

(Link: UN Resolution)

Logo for World Soil Day.Post #1: World Soil Day is December 5th

October 3—Often ignored, seldom appreciated, the wonderful world of soil is not the natural resource often discussed or cared about. But we want you to change that. With a little time and a small commitment to learning—things could improve. Trust us on this, soil is critical to life. No one understands that more than the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Check us out right here for the next 64 days and be amazed at what you will learn, what will scare you, and what will bring a smile to your face. It’s all about the soil. Stay tuned starting today as we launch our Countdown to World Soil Day on Dec 5th. Follow us as USDA NRCS Soil Science Division posts important information every Wednesday in October then every weekday in November until December 5.

(Link: World Soil Day)