Soil is not Dirt

I was surfing the internet trying to find something to write about and this article about the Smithsonian exhibit on soil. A reporter went to the exhibit and had some questions. He wanted to know, “what IS soil?” Pat Megonigal, a soil scientist answered the question-“Dirt is displaced soil.” He continued by saying soil is the compilation of minerals, air, water, animals and other living matter some of which has decayed, that has accumulate in layers and become compacted over time.
When particles of that soil erode or are dug up, they lose the “history” of their place, he says — essentially their associations with particles that might have been above, below, and to their sides. So I looked up my own defintion of soil and this is what I got off dictionary.com, “the portion of the earth’s surface consisting of disintegrated rock and humus.” Soil is composed of particles of broken rock that have been altered by chemical and environmental processes including weathering and erosion.

So next I got on the exhibits website and found more information about it. Some of the themes covered in the exhibit are:

  • Soils Are Living
  • Soils Are Varied
  • Soils Change Over Time
  • Soils Link the Earth’s Land, Air, and Water
  • Soils are Resources — Renewable, but Subject to Misuse and Overuse

Dig It! The Secrets of Soil occupies an approximately 5,000 square foot space in the museum, the most visited natural history museum in the world, and is on display through January 2010. Again, soil is not dirt. Dirt is what gets on our clothes or under our fingernails. It’s something to wash off, to get rid of. At a glance, dirt and soil may look the same, but there is a big difference. So, what on Earth is soil? It is a complex mix of ingredients: minerals, air, water and organic matter – countless organisms and the decaying remains of once-living things. Soil is alive! One tablespoon of soil has more organisms in it than people on Earth. That’s a whole lot of life in a little bit of soil! When you’re sick and get medicine from a doctor, the antibiotics that help you feel better probably came from soil. It takes 500 years to form an inch of soil on top of the ground. That’s a long time to make a little bit of soil! The Soil Science Society of America is the main sponsor of this exhibit. Founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for over 6,000 members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. I hope I get a chance to get up to Washington so I can see this exhibit myself.

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