DURHAM, N.C. -- The dirt under our feet is being so changed by humans that it is now appropriate to call this the "Anthropocene (or man-made) Age," says a new worldwide overview by Duke University soil scientist Daniel Richter.
With more than half of all soils on Earth now being cultivated for food crops, grazed, or periodically logged for wood, how to sustain Earths soils is becoming a major scientific and policy issue, Richter said. His paper appears in the December issue of the research journal Soil Science.
Societys most important scientific questions include the future of Earths soil, Richter added. "Can soils double food production in the next few decades? Is soil exacerbating the global carbon cycle and climatic warming? How can land management improve soils processing of carbon, nutrients, wastes, toxics and water, all to minimize adverse effects on the environment?"
Each of these questions require long-term observation and analysis, and we know far too little about how to answer them in much detail," he said. "We need to work to sustain soils with a greater sense of urgency.
As an example of the challenges, Richter said leading scientists are concerned that agriculture in Africa has so degraded regional soil fertility that the economic development of whole nations will be diminished without drastic improvements of soil management.
"This is an old story writ large of widespread cropping without nutrient recycling, with the result being soil infertility," he said. "And agriculture is only part of the reason why soils are so rapidly changing. Expanding cities, industries, mining and transportation systems all impact soil in ways that are far more permanent than cultivation."
"If humanity is to succeed in the coming decades, we must interact much more positively with the great diversity of Earth's soils," his Soil Science report said. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Uni
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