Talking Dirt – A World Without Soil

April 19, 2018

An essential mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life – soil. You’ve likely heard about the environmental importance of soils, but just how important are they? Let’s take a look at the importance of soil and what would happen if it disappeared from our planet.

First, let’s peel back the layers of our soil profile to understand the importance of each layer. The uppermost layer of soil on the earth’s surface is called the topsoil. Topsoil is made up of nutrient-rich organic matter which is essential for the growth of healthy plants. This organic matter is derived from decomposing plant matter and organisms. Within this layer lives beneficial microbes, fungi, and earthworms which feed on the organic matter. The lower level is called the parent material and is primarily made up of decomposing rock; providing the raw material for future topsoil as well as a substrate for deeply rooted plants to anchor into.

So the question becomes – Could our planet ever run out of soil? The answer is yes. Most articles state that our topsoil could be depleted within a short 40 to 60 years. It takes approximately 100 years to create 1inch (2.54cm) of topsoil. What could cause our topsoil to deplete so quickly? There are multiple contributors to the degradation of topsoil include equipment compaction during forestry operations, removing shelter belts for increased farmable land, removing topsoil for construction purposes, etc. All of these practices could result in wind and water erosion such as plow winds or flooding, leaving our soils bare of topsoil.

How does this affect the environment? Soil is essential and the foundation for plant life. Healthy topsoil helps to protect our planet against flooding, but it can also preserve water during drought periods. To be able to grow healthy plants we require water and nutrients retained in our soil. Plants are essential to our planet and naturally convert carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis. This is the primary way carbon is removed from our atmosphere. If plant populations collapsed worldwide, carbon emissions would drastically increase while oxygen levels decrease.

How can you help? There are several simple tips Loraas recommends that can protect and preserve our precious soil. First, support Saskatchewan farmers and buy local products. Small-scale agricultural operations are often better for the health of the soil. This is because most farmers take the health of their land into consideration and institute sustainable practices during operations. Second, learn more about soils and their importance to the planet; especially around your home. To help you can add more outdoor plants, make a rain garden, or minimize hard surfaces around your property like concrete pads. Lastly, you can, “Turn your Spoil into Soil.” By this, we mean turning your organic waste into quality soil by composting. Why out more on the importance of composting here. Composting is an art and requires time and space. If this is not feasible for you, no worries. Loraas is in the process of developing an organics program. Stay in touch as our website will have more details in the future to out more. Together we can make help conserve the soil!

 

Sources

The Humboldt Foundation. 2015. Business Line. When There Is No Soil Left In This World. Accessed: 2 March 2018. 

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