The Dirt on Soil

Did you know?

  • Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.”
  • Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.”

Soil is more than just ‘dirt.’ It’s made of minerals, water, organic matter, and air, and is a living ecosystem that is vital to sustaining plant, animal, and human life.

Living in this ecosystem are plant roots, bacteria, fungi, algae, mites, worms, insects, larger animals, and other organisms which function to give us clean air and water, food, forests, diverse wildlife, and beautiful landscapes. Soil does all this by regulating water, sustaining plant and animal life, filtering and buffering potential pollutants, cycling nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen, and providing physical stability and support for plant roots and human structures.

A changing climate may reduce the beneficial aspects of soil through increased occurrences of wildfires, extreme precipitation, drought, early springs, and extreme heat.

  • Wildfires have the potential to heat soil to a level that alters its physical, chemical, and biological properties.
  • Extreme precipitation events may erode soils into nearby water bodies and make them no longer available to support crop growth.
  • Droughts reduce the amount of water available in soil to sustain life in the ecosystem.
  • Earlier springs many not allow the soil to supply nutrients at required rates for faster growing plants. In turn, plants may be smaller and have reduced yields.
  • Extreme heat increases the rate of decomposition of organic matter in soil, which increases the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

What you can do

  • Pick up some tips from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and learn how you can maintain healthy soil by disturbing soil less, increasing plant diversity, keeping living roots in the ground throughout the year, and keeping soil covered as much as possible.

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