Climate change signals from the soil under our feet

Soil under the road, which has been eroded in the countryside

Credit: montiannoowong/GettyImages

We need to understand our soil better.

Soils support economic prosperity and provide services that are essential for humanity. Soil ecosystems supply most of the antibiotics used to fight human diseases, control the movement of water and chemicals between the Earth and its atmosphere. They act as source and storage media for nutrients and gases important to life, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane.

Soil is also the foundation material for all structures not supported on rock and is, by orders of magnitude, the most widely-used construction material in the world. Underground structures such as pipelines, tunnels and basements must resist soil movement, corrosion and groundwater seepage to perform properly.

Signals in the Soil is a £12 million+ international programme between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The programme will address the challenge of transforming existing capabilities in understanding dynamic near-surface soil processes through advances in sensor systems and modelling, and through this deliver sustainable, resilient and functional soils, whether managed or unmanaged.

Thus, as the Earth’s population grows to nearly 10 billion by 2050, we need a better understanding of the complex processes and problems of soil ecosystems that will continue to play a critical role in feeding the world and other important life support functions.

As global demands rise for food, fibres and bioenergy, and as land degradation, driven by land use change, poor agricultural practices, contamination and urbanisation occurs, we require more from a diminishing soil resource. Thus, advancing our understanding of soil ecosystems and our capacity to manage this vital resource becomes increasingly urgent and important.

Last updated: 11 March 2021

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