Tuesday, December 13, 2005

What is Soil Science?

For those who might think that soil scientists are engineers, a pretty common starting point in understanding, let me explain. Soil science is science - not engineering, not applied technology (which I consider agronomy and crop science to be) and more exactly it is an earth science. Occasionally you encounter puckish-types who place soil science among the life sciences, pointing out that a soil without living processes is simply dead dirt, another construction material for engineers to move around.

To be soil, a natural body must contain living matter. This excludes former soils now buried below the effects of organisms. This is not to say that buried soils may not be characterized by reference to taxonomic classes. It merely means that they are not now members of the collection of natural bodies called soil; they are buried paleosols.

from: Soil Survey Manual - Chapter One: Soil and Soil Survey Modern Concept of Soil USDA Soil Survey Staff, 1993

Some apply technical aspects of soil science within the context of their respective disciplines and call themselves soil scientists on this basis. Declaring oneself as a soil scientist can have an authoritative cachet that comes in handy for getting a little more business and at planning commission hearings. This is troublesome to those of us who have been qualified by our peers as soil scientists.

While the science owes a tremendous debt to agriculturists, engineers and geologists, soil science is not subordinate to any other discipline.

Some confusion about hierarchy is inevitable. It is understandable for folks to see soil science as a branch of whatever they were studying when introduced to the discipline. And it is understandable for non-soil scientist folks with a better understanding of soil science to be mislabeled as soil scientists despite their best efforts. Any real disagreement about standing were eliminated in 1924 when the International Council for Science accepted the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), as a full member , rather than placing soil science within either the IUGS or IUBS.

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