My Fascination With and Misunderstanding of Soil Science

I believe this idea may have been written about a couple of times at the beginning of the semester, but I’d like to comment on my amazement of the complexity of soil science.

Last weekend I was telling a member of my family my class schedule. I mentioned that I was taking a Soil and Water Science and they commented on how excellent and interesting that was. “Dirt to us is just Dirt,” my aunt commented,”you’re actually learning about soil.” Yes, Kudos for knowing the difference between dirt and soil.

This afternoon, I was searching for names for a new puppy I just got. I was searching on Wikipedia for names of famous scientists to be a little creative and add a brainy twist (like Einstein on “Back to the Future”). I got a bulk list of links to famous biologists, ecologists, chemists, physicists, geologists, astronomers and soil scientists. I thought that soil scientists would maybe fit into some subgroup of ecologists or geologists, but it was interesting that soil science was a larger group than I thought it was and it even had as many names listed as the other scientist groups.

Soil has its own classification with thousands of different series and twelve very distinct orders that we just studied. The system is just as complex as the system of the animal kingdom, though there are probably more species than their are series. A giant online database is dedicated to to the local composition of soil in almost every county in the United States. The database itself is even so complex that it can show the best construction site for a basement, the best drainage for an area, and even the best place to dispose of diseased cattle. College teams compete for the best ability to judge soil. Professional color cards are even made to standardize the different shades of soil.

The earth beneath our toes is more important than just something that is covered by grass or that houses little creepy crawlies. All our food starts with the soil and it enables cycling and storing of nutrients. Soil also filters and stores the water that we drink. On the contrary, soil is important in that it provides us with negatives. Anthrax, which was a threat to our national security a couple years ago, originates from actinomycetes in the soil. Tuberculosis also originates from these actinomycetes and it claims many lives worldwide. Arguably, many wars have been fought over land with soil. I believe that the basis for many of the wars in the Mesopotamia region started to vie for use of the land for crops. With the help of our man-made technologies, some soil has become so oversaturated with salts or undersaturated with nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium that they are unusable. The use of fertilizers on our soils have caused drainage from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico and made it into a giant dead zone.

In my mind, I continue to think of soil science as some subgroup of some other earth science, like as I thought in my Wikipedia search, but it is so complex that it deserves its own group. I continue to be amazed as to how fascinating soils can be!

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One Response to My Fascination With and Misunderstanding of Soil Science

  1. cdw526 says:

    I agree so much with how amazingly complex soil is. I’ve come to realize that it is one of those topics that really makes my head hurt if I think about it for too long. When it comes down to it, every aspect of history, from war and social classes to human nutrition and species survival can be attributed to the existence and necessity of soil.

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