Soil in the Headlines

A recurring post on this blog, Soil in the Headlines, collects a few of the ways soil is featuring in our lives and in our news.

Figure from this PLOS ONE article (#2 on the headline list!). Researcher's caption: "Variation in B. mycoides colony morphology due to the presence of 5 mm glass beads during incubation on PCA: with bead still in place (top); with bead removed (below)." doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081549.g005

Figure from this PLOS ONE article (#2 on the headline list!). Researcher’s caption: “Variation in B. mycoides colony morphology due to the presence of 5 mm glass beads during incubation on PCA: with bead still in place (top); with bead removed (below).”
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081549.g005

Japan tries to contain 133,000 tons of Fukushima’s radioactive soil

According to Japanese Daily Press, the Japanese government earmarked $970 million to store soil contaminated by Fukushima’s nuclear energy plant disaster. With the soil collected and money set aside to store it, the next question is, who wants to have a radioactive soil containment facility in their backyard? So far, no one is volunteering.

Soil microbe displays intriguing and potentially useful growth patterns

A recently published article in PLOS ONE describes a soil bacteria’s response to physical change in its surroundings. The bactieria, Bacillus mycoides, reorganized themselves into growth patterned around physical obstructions in their environment. Beyond the, “ooo, neat!” factor, this new knowledge of the bacteria may be useful for Continue reading

Advertisements

Soil in the headlines

The lastest dirt on your and my (or perhaps just my) favorite Earth element:

Photo by John A. Kelley, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

  • Rather than rotting on asphalt, Oregon’s roadkill meet a useful fate. The northwestern state composts animals smashed by cars into plant-ready nutrients. Turning dead deer into good soil (High Country News)
  • As land is developed, hydroponics move into urban Africa. A look at soil-less cultivation in West Africa: Cote d’Ivoire: The Miracle of Gardening Without Soil (All Africa)
  • The lauded rover samples Mars’ planetary skin and scientists excitedly search for evidence of organic compounds. Curiosity rover finds organic compounds, but are they from Mars? (NBC News)
  • Following a dry summer, Iowa’s soil is still dried out because the fall also failed to deliver moisture. This may set the state and its farmers up for a challenging spring, with soil trying to overcome a water debt. As winter nears, Iowa soil moisture low (Omaha World Herald)
  • Over-medicated livestock raise concerned eyebrows from those watching the residual antibiotics leave the farm and enter soil and water. One study suggests microorganisms break down antibiotics in the soil and that the population of antibiotic-eating microbes grows along with livestock operating scale. Antibiotic-eating bug unearthed in soil (American Society of Agronomy)

Photo by John A. Kelley, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

For peat’s sake

British policymakers are worried. They are stewards to 15% of the world’s peatland, a percentage that is shrinking because of domestic use. The New York Times cited the chair of a British governmental peat taskforce earlier this month as saying with current harvest rates the United Kingdom could exhaust their peat supply within decades.

To protect their soggy, boggy places, Parliament proposed a ban on all horticultural peat use, a move that has Britain’s gardeners abuzz. The suggested ban requires eliminating amateur gardener use of peat by 2020 and commercial horticultural use by 2030.

Why would the United Kingdom completely ban what is, for gardeners, partially-decomposed organic gold? For the same three reasons many natural resources become regulated: carbon, water, and biodiversity.

Peat! On a hike in Glendalough, Ireland.

Continue reading

The politics and science of soil carbon

When it comes to discussing climate change, knowing the role of carbon is important. It pops up everywhere: carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, carbon emissions, and carbon markets. A big driver of the shifting climate is the change in carbon’s location. More and more of it is being stored in the atmosphere, instead of in Earth’s crust and vegetation.

Many solutions for righting this imbalance suggest reducing emissions and recapturing the carbon we pumped into the air. I recently read a blog by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) about one such solution: a soil carbon market. The author described the debate about such markets among international climate change policy makers at their October meeting in Panama. That meeting was a primer for the UN’s climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, which began on Monday and finishes December 9th.

Me, doing a little soil science

It seems that there was contentious discussion around soil carbon markets in Panama. Some people argued that targeting soil carbon is a “mirage” or diversion from action that will really make a difference. Whether a market mediating soil carbon storage and release is fast or effective is beyond my scope of expertise. But I did take issue with a couple of the author’s statements about the state of soil carbon itself. I work in a biogeochemistry lab where soil organic carbon is a major research subject and the science of carbon is our specialty.

There were two statements in IATP’s blog with which I disagreed. I will list each and explain why, as a soil scientist, I find them empirically false. Continue reading

Ode to Soil

The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.

I cannot lay claim to the beauty of Wendell Berry’s prose. But I can profess a similar concern for the important medium under our feet, our buildings and our crops. As it turns out, the world cares too. The United Nations recently formed the Global Soil Partnership (GSP). Broadly, its aim is to facilitate “healthy and productive soils for a food secure world.” For a basic overview of GSP, click here. The partnership was launched on September 7, 2011 and is, in part, an attempt to carry out the World Soil Charter, a UN document created in 1982. Continue reading