Much more than mere “dirt,” soil is a vital natural resource. In addition to providing us with food, textiles, and wood, soil provides us with fundamental ecosystem services. It filters our waste and regulates climate, water, and nutrient cycles essential to our survival.
Scientists are becoming increasingly aware that mismanagement of soils can lead to food shortages, erosion, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and reductions in water quality. As the human population continues to grow, so will the pressure on soil to provide ecosystem services.
Obviously we need to understand and protect this critical resource. Yet, although there are more than 16,000 soil scientists worldwide, translating research into policy change has remained challenging.
One reason for this communication meltdown has been the jargon-ridden, antiquated presentation of soil maps. Although trained scientists understand them, these maps are indecipherable to most laypersons. Another reason is that the maps are static – they present “snap-shots” in time of a given soil property instead of reflecting the ever-changing nature of soils.
But an international consortium of scientists is now working to help solve these problems. Using new methodology that makes soil information understandable to non-experts, the consortium is creating a digital soil map of the world.
Known as GlobalSoilMap.net, the interactive map will provide up-to-date, fine-scale information on the complex and dynamic nature of soil. The map, which will be freely available online, will provide data necessary for answering questions about food security, climate change, and water use. It will be accessible to soil scientists, farmers, agriculture extension workers, environmental groups, and policymakers alike.
With the effects of soil depletion being felt around the world, I think we need GlobalSoilMap.net now more than ever.
Image courtesy of EuDASM.