We need to change the way we think about the ground

As the UK hits record high temperatures this summer as well as the driest conditions since 1976, ongoing concerns about food security, wildlife habitats and biodiversity, having a healthy soil system is more important and more challenging than ever. But what does the term “soil health” mean and how should we measure it? New research from Cranfield and Nottingham Universities indicates that the way we think about, measure and study soil needs to change to better understand how to effectively manage this resource, with academics offering an entirely new approach to assessing soil health.

Jim Harris, professor of environmental technology at Cranfield University, led the research and says: “Although the term ‘soil health’ is fairly widely used now, it’s problematic because it means different things to different people, and there’s no agreed one of a kind way to measure the overall health of that system.

“Thanks to this research. examining the interconnected elements of this universally significant system. Taking steps towards a bigger picture of soil health could help make a huge difference to some of our grand challenges, including the climate crisis.”

A range of measurements will help assess the direction of travel

Current approaches measure individual soil properties and use them to try to assign a unique number giving a world wide “score” of soil health, but researchers argue that this does not reflect the broader system view that is needed to fully assess a soil’s condition and health over time.

Dr. Dan Evans, 75anniversary researcher at Cranfield University and co-author of the article, commented, “Just as we don’t have an exclusive metric or score for human health because it can’t reflect the complexities of the whole body, we shouldn’t rely on just one. p-score for soil health. Taking a series of measurements to examine the whole system will mean that we can fully understand the route of travel – is the ground improving or deteriorating?

Whole System Approach Measures Four Key Areas

Researchers Propose Whole Systems Approach to assess soil health, based on a new hierarchical framework that takes into account several measures:

  • Signs of life – characterizing organisms existing in the soil
  • Signs of function – the extent to which soils process materials
  • Signs of complexity – the extent to which soil components are connected and interdependent
  • Signs of emergence – the extent to which soils are responding and recovering to multiple stressors

Sacha Mooney, Professor of Soil Physics at the University of Nottingham, added: “This new approach can be applied to all soils and we approaches an interdisciplinary understanding of the “global graphic” of the system floor, rather than considering the individual rooms separately. of the puzzle.”

The professor Harris continued: “It’s hard to underestimate the importance of having a healthy soil system – it supports wildlife and biodiversity, reduces flood risk, stores carbon and gives us food security. Moving to this new assessment model will help land users and governments sustainably manage our global soil resources for future generations.”

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