Getting the dirt on soil
Humans dispose of unwanted wastes from households, agricultural operations, and industrial processes into soil. It is not possible to recognize and quantify the effect of human activities on soils without understanding natural variability.
It takes a lot more than just digging holes to gather soil from thousands of sites across the lower 48 states. In the nationwide sampling effort, the USGS enlisted help from state geological surveys, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and 19 students from 12 universities who participated from 2008–2010. The sampling crews had flexibility at each site with the general guidance being that no samples be taken within 200 meters of a major highway, within 100 meters of a building or structure, within 50 meters of a rural road and no less than 5 kilometers downwind of any power plants or stack emitters.
Kevin Bamber was an undergraduate student at University of Missouri in 2008 when he signed on to help the USGS with the project for two summers. “I have been in and out of every rural part of Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Idaho and Montana,” he said.
Start with Science
Although soil is important, the body of knowledge about the concentration and spatial distribution of naturally occurring elements in the soils of North America is remarkably limited. Prior to the current study, the best national-scale data set for soil geochemistry was a USGS study in the 1960s and 1970s that used analytical methods that are now outdated and inappropriate for environmental studies. The results of this new effort provide the most precise estimate of the geochemical variability of the nation’s soils that has ever been available and open the door for to future research about a valuable natural resource.
Learn more about the Geochemical and Mineralogical Maps for Soils of the Conterminous United States
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