The Wonders Beneath Our Feet—The International Year of Soils

The United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils.

In the ground underneath our feet thrive ecosystems as complex, diverse and strange as any we might find above the surface. This is the world of soil. Soil not only provides a physical foundation for Earth systems (rooting life into place and filtering and storing water) it provides a context for the cycle of life itself. Soil is the source from which nutrients are drawn and the matter to which nutrients return during decomposition after death.

Rich soil held in hands

Soil. Image Credit: Pat Dumas

In recognition of the important role soil plays in sustaining life, the United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils (IYS). The purpose of IYS is to raise awareness about the important role played by soil in natural and human-dominated systems, such as its role in food security and ecosystem services, including carbon storage. Within the broader goals are nested specific areas targeted for improvement, such as more effective policies for sustainable management of healthy soils or improved soil monitoring on local to global scales.

The call for improved monitoring is a timely one. Although not directly associated with the IYS initiative, NASA’s SMAP satellite launched on January 31. SMAP will use remote sensing to collect high-resolution data on soil moisture and soil freeze/thaw states.

Meanwhile, on-the-ground efforts to celebrate soil are being promoted by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). The SSSA has designated a soil-related theme for each month of the year and is offering toolkits and National Science Teacher Association travel grants for educators interested in gathering and sharing knowledge on soil and its importance in human life.

Globally, events range from public presentations such as the Soil-Source of Life evening in Montreal, Canada to international conferences such as the Soil Governance Conference to be held in Brasilia, Brazil. A full list of events associated with IYS can be found on the official IYS calendar on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official IYS webpage.

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