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La importancia de los Suelos


Recientemente nuestra sociedad ha escuchado hablar sobre un recurso cuya conservación es poco común pero de gran importancia en nuestro día a día. Este recurso  es el suelo, y este año ha sido denominado como “El Año del Suelo”.

¿Por qué la FAO tomó esta decisión?

Pues  esto es debido a que el suelo es un recurso irrecuperable y de gran valor para la producción de alimentos para la humanidad, por lo tanto la FAO ha tomado tal iniciativa para generar consciencia del cuidado de este por parte de la sociedad. Considerando que la regeneración del suelo es tan dificultosa y que después de 2000 años tan solo se  regeneran 10 cm de suelo fértil, gracias a la descomposición de rocas por efecto del sol, la lluvia, el viento, los animales y las plantas, es ahora que observamos los números rojos de la factura de una explotación excesiva de este recurso.

Mientras el suelo se encuentre sin cobertura vegetal se verá más expuesto a la erosión ocasionada por el viento y la lluvia, y son los bosques principalmente los que protegen al suelo de esta forma, irónicamente cada año se destruyen 13 millones de hectáreas de bosque.

No sólo la tala de bosques amenaza al suelo, sino también la agricultura intensiva que después de la cosecha deja los suelos expuestos a la erosión. La expansión urbana contribuye fuertemente en   esta problemática, pues el suelo queda enterrado bajo infraestructuras de cemento, y se pierde el valor del suelo como fuente de subsistencia, además dentro de esta expansión cada vez los espacios agrícolas quedan más rezagados y la frontera agrícola se expande hacia los bosques.


The Answer Lies in the Soil


Soil and Life – neglect it at our peril

For me soil is right up the top there, a micron or two behind air and water. But whilst without these two gifts we cannot survive today, soil is the basis of long term survival. In fact it is demonstrably the true foundation of civilisation. That is­ fertile, accessible, living soil.

We neglect it at our peril. Within historical memory (i.e. written records) Syria was a forest kingdom[1], Iraq the birthplace of agriculture[2] and Libya the bread­basket of the Roman Empire.[3]

I expect anyone reading this will be familiar with the essential components of soil:

●      Mineral fraction (sand, silt, clay)
●      Humus
●      Air and water
●      Adequate soil structure to admit and retain these 

But the most important constituent, the one that resists erosion and minimises workload the most, the one which makes nutrition most available to plants and animals alike, is the life in the soil itself.

Does your Tree have Roots?

For many years now we have started Permaculture Design Courses with a light­hearted ‘entrance exam’, part of which is to ask people to draw a tree ­ not as a contest in drawing skills or species accuracy, but looking for one thing only. Does their tree have roots? Once folks get this they become much more aware of the earth beneath our feet. The fact that so much of what we depend on is not (in ordinary circumstances) visible to us.

The life in the soil may be millions of individual organisms in a single handful. Animal and plant life in a constant process of exchange. Plant and tree roots provide the most astonishing marketplace, where bacteria, other roots, nematodes, earthworms etc. mingle in the jelly like rhizosphere doing what they do best. Green leaved plants ensure energy supply by producing sugars through photosynthesis which they may swap for nitrogen (the building blocks of life) from air in the soil harvested by (for example) leguminous plants.

We all know legumes produce nitrogen don’t we? No? Of course they don’t! It is bacteria staying in the little root nodule hotels they produce who do that job. And hugely significant are the largest living organisms yet found on planet earth. Blue whales?! No, fungi. Not mushrooms, which are only their fruiting bodies, but mycelium, vast underground networks of whitish thread like material (largest yet discovered: thirty-five hectares­ which would be a lot of blue whales).[4]


Soil Calling


 A short piece on soil awakening (Soil Soul)

„We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.“

Leonardo da Vinci

-                 Earth, this is soil calling. Earth, this is soil calling. Terrans, do you read us?

-                 Yes, we read you loud and clear, Soil, please identify yourself. What’s the mission and where do you come from?

-                 We don’t come from anywhere. We’re right here, under your feet. Maybe you didn’t read us clearly – it is soil calling! The soil under you, copy that? We need your urgent assistance! Do you understand that, Terrans?

-                 Affirmative, the lines are clear and you sound as if we were in the same room, but we don’t understand. Wait, please hold (there were voices coming from background: „What do you mean - soil? Who are these people kidding? Did you hear that? Soil calling! As though it were alive, I can’t believe these people!“ “But, boss“, a voice said, „Maybe soil really needs our help?“„So?! How are we supposed to help it?“).

-                 Soil, do you still read us? How can we help you? And can you identify yourself more precisely? You’re holding the frequency, and making jokes with us is a serious offence...

-                 Terrans, there is no time. Please, promptly warn all inhabitants of the earth that we are in danger and need assistance. Soon enough we’ll be unable to supply all your needs, and by then, it will have been too late to react. Take a look under your feet when you walk. Step out of your cars, press your finger into the soil, place it under a microscope, and then put your thinking cap on. Gather all experts and scientists, leaders, farmers, media representatives, citizens, all sights and minds, all knowledge and conscience, and then contact us at this frequency, if we are still here.  


Soils have no panda bears


I usually dread the question, “What do you do for a living?”

Not because I dislike what I do; I love researching soil microbial ecology and addressing issues in land management. However, sometimes saying out-loud the three words “soil microbial ecology”, in that order, is enough to give even the most polite conversational partner that glassy-eyed look of disinterest, and it only gets worse the more detail I try to give.

My phobia of being a boring conversationalist usually pressures me to change topics. Soils aren’t exactly charismatic (if only we had the soils equivalent to a panda) but they are so fundamentally important to society and the environment that people should be more aware of them (unlike pandas). Apart from my research questions, during my PhD I’d also like to make some discoveries in the area: “How do we get people excited about soils?”

Recently, I had success leading a section on soil microbial ecology during the 2015 Bioblitz event at the Whiterock Conservancy in Iowa. It’s a great organization that is working hard to find sustainable solutions to land management and is very interested in soil ecology. I was really excited to be one of the experts during this event and I also brought out a dissecting scope, corers, sieves, and printed out some of the awesome infographics that the IYS offers. Here’s how it went:

I ran two sessions, but only one person showed up to the first so I had to cancel it… I made the mistake of simply saying that I would be talking about “soil microbial ecology” and showing them “soils”, and no one was interested. Understandable. For the next session I urged gardeners and farmers to join in, and that bagged me a group of six.


Fleurs des champs


Frédérique Pelloux est une paysanne d’un petit village du côté de Bordeaux (France). Depuis quelques années, elle cultive une diversité de plantes ; des arbres fruitiers aux plantes aromatiques et médicinales, en passant par des parterres de jachères fleuries. Ces derniers lui ont forgé une belle réputation sur les marchés de Bordeaux.

            Le sol est pour elle beaucoup plus qu’un support pour ses cultures, il leur apporte ce supplément d’âme qui ne peut nous laisser indifférent envers lui. La relation intime qui se joue entre le sol et les végétaux l’émerveille chaque jour. Elle en prend soin, elle l’intègre totalement dans la conception de son agriculture. Frédérique Pelloux s’adapte au fonctionnement des sols en observant l’état des cultures et leur bien-être. Sa réflexion entre ainsi dans le cadre d’une pratique agroécologique qui vise à (1) étudier le fonctionnement de ses sols en fonction de la réponse des plantes (description des symptômes) et (2) adapter son assolement en fonction de ce savoir-faire paysan. Au-delà de la discipline agronomique, elle est une technique utilisée par les agriculteurs depuis des âges immémoriaux, pour raisonner leurs choix de culture et les itinéraires techniques associés. L’attention particulière que Frédérique Pelloux apporte à ses plantes lui permet de détecter rapidement si les emplacements choisis sont adaptés à leurs besoins; ainsi à l’apparition de symptômes comme un jaunissement ou noircissement des feuilles, s’il ne s’agit pas d’une cause bien identifiée comme une maladie, les plantes sont déplacées. Non seulement, elle raisonne la disposition de certaines cultures en fonction des sols mais elle a mis en place un système alterné en bandes de fonctionnement Ce dispositif lui facilite le passage pour le travail quotidien, même après de fortes pluies, et il permet aussi de mettre en place des rotations, si importantes en agriculture biologique. Aujourd’hui, Frédérique Pelloux fait partie de cette « petite » agriculture qui, en France et dans le monde, nécessite un soutien. Pour cela, des étudiants français ont monté une association pour lui venir en aide d’un point de vue humain, technique et juridique. Ensemble, ils lui permettent de donner vie à sa passion qui peut parfois souffrir d’un certain nombre d’obstacles.


Site internet du Comité de Soutien : fredpelloux.wix.com | Pétition


Video: an interview with a soil scientist


On Feburary 28, 2015, Risa Nagura, a former graduate student in Meiji University, Japan, met with Dr. Masaru Mizoguchi, a professor in the University of Tokyo, Japan, to ask his research and thoughts about soil science. Dr. Mizoguchi is a soil physicist who originally studied mass and heat transfer during soil freezing and thawing, and currently working on development of real-time remote field monitoring systems. Dr. Mizoguchi is also known for his enthusiasm and contribution for removing soils contaminated with radioactive sources and rebuilding farming and farmers’ livelihoods in Fukushima after the great earthquake in Northeast Japan and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Dr. Mizoguchi presented his unique thoughts for soil science and his efforts in Fukushima.


El suelo origen y prolongación de la vida. Conflictos por uso y manejo


Soy ingeniera agrónoma afroecuatoriana. Tras mi formación de pregrado en Zamorano, Honduras, enfoqué mis estudios posteriores en investigaciones que se enmarcan dentro de los conflictos por el uso del suelo en las comunidades negras de mi provincia, Esmeraldas. La migración ambiental y los factores detonantes del uso y la apropiación del recurso edáfico, permiten mediante la ecología política como corriente interpretativa, comprender en este siglo XXI y etapa de mundialización la disputa por recursos naturales como el suelo para la producción agrícola y también para la extracción de recursos naturales. Así los conflictos interétnicos, de clase, de desarrollo, planeación y conservación, se visualizan desde distintas racionalidades dependiendo de los sujetos que buscan tener el control mediante una lógica de resistencia o negociación.

El suelo y los estudios rurales ya no se limitan a la visión rural-agrícola, sino rural-minera, rural-maderera, rural-agroindustrial. Mi aporte en estos estudios de la mano de la autogestión de las comunidades negras rurales, es la búsqueda de alternativas a las actividades extractivas y devastadoras del capitalismo mediante la conservación del suelo y la producción de cacao agroecológico.


Soil conservation is a cooperative effort


ASOBAGRI is a smallholder coffee cooperative located in the small rural town of Santa Cruz Barillas, Guatemala, and is currently made up of approximately 1300 producers.  ASOBAGRI’s mission is to improve the standard of living for people whose livelihoods are centered around coffee production, people who are working, sometimes struggling, to thrive in the face of various socioeconomic and biophysical challenges and stresses. 

I have the fortune of spending the summer in Guatemala working with this organization on soil conservation matters as part of my Master’s thesis work.  In honor of 2015 International Year of Soils, I felt it appropriate to bring to light the progressive vision and action on soil health of this little organization, tucked far away in the big, lush green mountains of Guatemala.

ASOBAGRI has established 54 demonstrative plots located on farmers’ lands, where they are implementing various soil conservation and plant nutrition practices, including terracing and green barriers to control erosion, organic residue management, and the use of bokashi composts and microbial foliar sprays to replenish soil fertility and support plant health.  These parcels serve to be experimental as well as educational.  Part of my work here is to aid in establishing a baseline data set for various soil properties.  The cooperative will continue to monitor and observe changes in soil and plant health parameters over time. 

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Soil, Not Dirt: A Digital Journey Connecting Soils, Plants, and Climate


I am a pedologist at The University of Arizona, which means that I study how soils form in the natural environment. During my master’s and PhD programs, I found myself constantly explaining why I was studying “dirt” in graduate school. While I always enthusiastically explained my decision to study soil, I also chose to pursue opportunities to improve my science communication skills through several outreach fellowships. One of my goals was to learn how to teach soil science to broader audiences using an exciting, first person perspective. I found video to be a dynamic avenue of communication and spent 2 years learning how to capture footage, write scripts, record narratives, edit video, and more.

My final product titled, “Soil, Not Dirt: A Digital Journey Connecting Soils, Plants, and Climate” is now available to watch and share on YouTube.

Join me on an exciting GoPro adventure to study soils in the desert, grasslands, and pine forests of Arizona. On this excursion, you will take an early morning drive, cross streams, dig soil pits, admire beautiful soils, and even learn about how fire impacts soil from the perspective of a firefighter!

This project was funded through an outreach fellowship from CLIMAS (Climate Assessment for the Southwest) at The University of Arizona.This video was also made possible through several programs at The University of Arizona including the Biosphere 2 Carson Scholars, the Flandrau Science Center, the Catalina Critical Zone Observatory (CZO), the Department of Soil and Water Science, and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.



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Become a soil scientist and tell the world how awesome soil is


My journey into the underworld

I’m a pedologist (a rare species these days).  My research focuses on 21st century soil mapping by combining muddy boots soil survey (digging holes) and digital soil mapping  (reproducing soil maps using models). I am fascinated to explore how we can replicate the mental models that the surveyors used to understand how soils change in two and three dimensions in the landscape by applying learning algorithms or classifiers to environmental data. After high school I made the decision of science over art. After 10 years in academia as an undergraduate and postgraduate in environmental science, geography and geophysics I only really ‘found’ soils when I started working at Cranfield University. I had some fabulous mentors (now sadly retired) who were the former soil survey staff of England and Wales. These guys are amazing. They spent many years in the field deciphering the soil landscape and collecting the soils data that was subsequently used to produce the soil maps that we now have in the UK, some of them now available at your fingertips as apps (SoilWeb for US data, Soilscapes for UK data) on your smartphone. These guys made me a soil nerd.  

#girlswithtoys: soil data and digital soil mapping

I’m a soil nerd but why isn’t everyone else? Let’s face it soil science has a bit of an image problem. Dirt. Mud. Muck. And we don’t have dinosaurs or rockets to illustrate our science but there is so much cool technology that is used to investigate soils. In digital soil mapping we use all sorts of mapped environmental data. This includes data collected from satellites that identify vegetation responses or the land surface (terrain), some of the factors that give rise to differences in soils in one part of the landscape to another. At the farm level field soil and crop data is collected using a variety of sensors that can collect data ‘on-the-go’ off the back of a tractor or by capturing images from the air using UAVs. How cool is that?  The soil maps that are created using this data combined with digital soil mapping techniques are predictions. Although the models will give us some idea of the uncertainty of the predictions we still need to verify then with observations and direct measurement of soil properties. So even with all this technology we still need some experts getting their boots muddy and their opinions can also be incorporated into some of the models we use.

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