In celebration of the International Year of Soil 2015 (IYS), the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is coordinating a series of activities throughout the year to educate the public about the importance of soil.  September’s theme is “Soils Protect the Natural Environment.”

Here are some facts about soils protecting the natural environment:

  • Healthy Forests: The forests we like to hike in are beautiful because of their trees. But, it’s the soil that keeps those trees healthy. Soil provides the nutrients for the trees to grow, and the support to hold the trees up…even a giant redwood! If a forest is destroyed in a fire, the soil will bring back life.
  • Great Plains: Prairie soils are rich, soft and deep. They form under grasslands where the climate has warm summers and cold winters. When the grassland plants die back in winter, their leaves and roots remain. This is good, because the debris acts like mulch on a garden. It adds organic matter, which keeps the soil fertile, and helps the Plains states grow much of the United States’ grain crops.
  • Coastal Wetlands: Wetlands are found everywhere. Wetland soils often form in flat, low-lying areas or in depressions where water from rain or snow collects. The soil stays wet because it does not drain well. Wetlands are important habitats for wildlife from fish to frogs…to flamingos. They protect against floods by soaking up water and holding it like a sponge. We need these wetlands to prevent flooding in rivers and streams.
  • Great American Deserts: Not all deserts are sandy, but they all are dry. They form in areas that receive little rainfall or snow melt…or where the water evaporates more quickly than it can be replenished. The lack of moisture means that minerals are trapped inside the soil particles. This means there are very few minerals to support plant growth. However, we know that there are still organisms that live in desert soils, such as microbes, lichens, ants, rodents and reptiles.
  • Lakes, Rivers and Streams: Soils in the forest, our wetlands, or the plains affect the water in streams. All soils clean and capture water, affecting both water quality and quantity. Every drop of water we drink traveled through soils at one time or another. The soils helped purify it along the way.

As part of their celebration of IYS, SSSA developed a series of twelve 2-minute educational videos. September’s “Soils Protect the Natural Environment” video can be viewed at www.soils.org/iys/monthly-videos. Educational materials can be viewed at www.soils.org/iys by clicking on the August tab.