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Soil Scientists to Earthlings: Respect the Ground You Walk On

Published: Monday, December 12, 2011

Updated: Thursday, January 12, 2012 17:01


Courtesy USDA

Scott Stewart and Mike Gracz inventory plant and soils on Alaska Native lands near Homer, Alaska.

It's always there, beneath every building and street. We walk on it daily, but often don't think twice about what it is. That is exactly why, in honor of their 75th anniversary, the Soil Science Society of America has launched a new awareness campaign, "The Story of Soil," aimed at educating the public about the benefits of soil as well as alerting them to the deterioration of one of the world's critical resources.

"We wanted to make people aware of the soil resource and ecosystem," said James Giese, a representative for the SSSA, an organization that brings together scientists within the soil science discipline to present their research in scientific journals and at an annual meeting.

What most people call just dirt, is actually a vital resource used to build upon. It affects water quality and even climate change, Giess said.

"To a soil scientist, technically, dirt is something that you want to wash off your hands," Giess said. "But soil is that substance that is the skin of the Earth."

In October, the organization launched three public service announcements that have been circulating on local television stations. The stop-motion animation videos focus on three pillars of soil and its benefits – human health, food security and water quality. The videos can be viewed in either English or Spanish.

When it comes to human health, people often do not realize that there are more organisms in one tablespoon of soil than people on Earth, Giess said, adding that soil fungus is actually where penicillin comes from.

The organization has received positive feedback from people around the world including countries such as Peru, Australia and England.

In Arizona, people have been interested in the recent dust storms and what caused them, Giess said, adding that the SSSA began in the 1930s when people began asking those same questions about the Dust Bowl.

Since that time the discipline of soil science has grown and learned more about the organisms, both harmful and beneficial, in soil. Scientists are now learning more about how to manage the problems associated with soil, especially in China where dust storms have caused various problems in previous years, Giess said.

"In some ways, we are at the limit of arable land for food production," Giess said, citing the UN's recent report, "The State of the World's Land and Water Resources," which claims that 25 percent of the world's soil is highly degraded. Knowing this, it becomes increasingly important to protect and take care of soil moving forward, Giess said.

This is the first time the SSSA has launched a public campaign about soil. About two years ago, they sponsored an exhibit called "Dig It" at the Smithsonian, Giess said, but now they want to reach a wider audience.

The creators of the videos tried to give them a youthful appeal, although the organization is not trying to target one specific age group. Scientists worked with the animation team to make sure that the videos are quite scientific while remaining fun and engaging, Giess said.

Now that the PSAs have shown success with local television stations, Giess said the next step is to move the campaign to local radio and, sometime in the next few months, get the word out to educators who can incorporate the message in their classrooms.

The PSAs can be viewed online at, or for a more complete overview of soil and other information resources, visit

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