International Year of Soils: April 2015

Apr 09, 2015

Soils clean and capture water

By Diego Flammini,


During a closing panel discussion at the 2015 Precision Agriculture Conference in March, Tyler Vollmershausen offered up an interesting thought to the people in attendance.

“The more I know about soil, the less I treat it like dirt,” he said.

The United Nations and Tyler Vollmershausen seem to share that sentiment because the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils.

The goals of the yearlong tribute to soil are to raise awareness about the impacts soil has on everyday life that we take for granted.

In conjunction with the United Nations, the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is creating videos and themes to go along with each month.

April’s theme is “soils clean and capture water”.

As he’s done in January, February and March, Jim Toomey from the SSSA appears in a short video about how soils play a role in cleaning water once its fallen from the sky.

“In a rural setting, water has more opportunity to sink into the soil,” he said in the video. “In an urban setting, there are fewer opportunities for water to sink into the soil.”

Toomey described three ways in which soil cleans water:

Physical – The size of the pores of the soil determine how good of a job it does when cleaning water. The smaller the pores the more water gets filtered. Pores that are too big will not catch enough sediment and ones that are too small will block water from passing through completely.

Chemical – Soil’s negative charge removes the positive ions from the water when it passes over it. Calcium, magnesium and potassium are removed from the water and absorbed by the soil.

Biological – Soil microbes can change organic forms of nitrogen into ammonium, while others can even create nitrogen gas.

Be sure to go back and read the soil themes for the previous three months:

January - Soils Sustain Life
February – Soils Support Urban Life
March – Soils Support Agriculture

Don’t forget to check back in during May when the theme is “soils support buildings and infrastructure”.

Join the discussion and tell us about something you’ve learned about soil that you didn’t know before.

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