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Major environmental and agricultural issues dealing with land use and management are likely to be increasingly studied in the future by large interdisciplinary groups of scientists. The future of soil science will be strongly affected by the ability of soil scientists to work in interdisciplinary teams and to effectively interact with users. This will require effective communication of our expertise, while guarding scientific integrity. Disciplinary expertise can be classified in terms of different levels of detail, ranging from user and expert knowledge to different degrees of detailed process knowledge. Selecting a proper level of detail for any problem to be studied by each member of the interdisciplinary team is important to optimize functioning of the team. Ideally, input to the team by soil scientists should include (i) initiation of projects and leadership, (ii) contributions to projects led by other disciplines, or (iii) contributions of basic soil data to projects without being formally involved. Interaction with colleagues and users should be based on continuous exchange of information leading to joint products, to be defined as a series of realistic options (windows of opportunity) rather than as standard data with rigid interpretations. Scenario studies are particularly suitable to realize interdisciplinarity. Soil scientists should be alert to continuously expand and develop their own knowledge base and soil science expertise while being involved with interdisciplinary research so as to remain an interesting partner in the future. Educational programs in soil science should put more emphasis on the ability to communicate to users and colleagues.
Food demand for the year 2040 is estimated for 15 major regions of the world. It is compared with potential food production in these regions, which is computed from the area with soils suitable for cropping and grazing, the amount of irrigation water available, and the farming system used. Application of the best known techniques for sustainable farming is assumed, but two alternatives are explored: integrated agriculture, with intensive use of chemical inputs and energy to produce maximum yields for minimum prices, and ecological agriculture, in which legumes provide all N, intensity is lower, agriculture is more diverse, but hectare yields are lower. Comparing future scenarios of demand and supply of food shows that most regions can avoid serious food security problems but that in Asia, situations may arise where a moderate or affluent diet is out of reach of its population, even when maximum use is made of all natural resources. Implications for soil science are (i) more accurate global soil data bases are required, containing more characteristics (e.g., soil depth); (ii) more knowledge is required as to how to scale up field data bases and models to national or regional levels; and (iii) more knowledge is needed at field and regional scale about leaching of nutrients, particularly from organic manure. Future challenges are to (i) increase P availability, (ii) reduce loss of nutrients under high and low input systems, and (iii) increase water-use efficiency in irrigation systems.
Bioremediation has become a widely practiced technology or in fact a continuum of related technologies. Soil science has been integral to the development of the technology, and the field is a growing area of research and employment. However, soil science plays a limited role in the current research and practice of bioremediation. There have been rapid advances in both in situ and ex situ bioremediation, involving both new methods of implementing bioremediation and new compounds that can be treated effectively. Bioventing, in situ air sparging, cometabolic treatment systems for chlorinated solvents, composting and anaerobic treatment for nitroaromatics, phytoremediation, and intrinsic bioremediation are all areas of rapid progress. Soil science has been integral to the progress made to date, but the types of research needed in the future will require close cooperation with other disciplines, many of which are not disciplines with which soil scientists have typically interacted in the past. Some of these key research needs include the understanding and enhancement of bioavailability, the definition of environmentally acceptable cleanup goals, improved predictive models and monitoring techniques, and the control of cometabolic and anaerobic processes under field conditions. Soil science training and research approaches must change to make greater contributions to this evolving interdisciplinary area. As with many other environmental quality issues, the needed knowledge base spans several of the historic divisions within soil science, as well as other nonagronomic disiplines. It is therefore a classic example of the need for a whole-systems approach. Work in this area can provide excellent opportunities to integrate many of the separate disciplines within soil science, as well as providing opportunities for soil scientists to cooperate with professionals in nontraditional areas.
The main thesis of this paper is that soil science is well integrated into the main body of most ecological research. I attempt to prove this thesis using two approaches. First, I provide literature examples of how research from different areas of soil science is represented in ecological research efforts and publications. Second, I present case studies of ecological research efforts where soil science plays a fundamental role. These case studies range from the use of agricultural systems as model systems for asking basic questions in ecology to multidisciplinary earth system science and integrated assessment studies that address large-scale complex problems related to global environmental change.
In this chapter, the soil scientist's role in watershed research and hydrology is examined from the perspective of soil as the primary layer controlling the export of water and chemicals and in the context of watershed responses and the watershed system. To best contribute, the soil scientist needs to have a good technical overview of how soil systems function, to have good quantitative and communicative skills, and to understand how the soil system fits within a watershed framework. This tall order is discussed in terms of what we think the soil scientist should teach and learn to be most effective.
Nutrients and biocides are subject to a variety of processes that influence dissipation rates and pathways. Soil and chemical properties, diffusion, surface sorption, microbiological transformations, reaction kinetics, and the temporal and spatial nature of water and gas fluxes influence concentrations in volatilization, leaching, and runoff pathways. Soil scientists have played a unique role in explaining this dynamic behavior and in the future, can guide efforts to integrate the effects of these diverse processes. This expertise can be applied to aid predictions of chemical fate in the vadose zone, in groundwater, and in watersheds. Examples demonstrate the contribution of soil scientists to chemical fate assessment and why the contributions from soil science may differ from those of related disciplines.
Recently, there has been a renewed interest in the area of environmental sciences (ES). This has resulted in the development of new undergraduate majors in ES. This subject area involves basic science studies of math, physics, chemistry, microbiology, and of course soil science. Undergraduate enrollment in traditional soil science curricula has dwindled recently, whereas enrollment in the new ES arena has increased dramatically. This has resulted in major changes in the traditional soil science curriculum at land grant and other universities. Many universities are now interested in developing a new undergraduate major in ES, but they typically develop teething problems due to political as well as depth versus breadth subject area issues. The University of Arizona, Tucson, ES major is a university-wide program housed within the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science. This ES major was initiated in the fall of 1993 and is somewhat unique in that it focuses on factors affecting pollution of developed lands. Here, we will document the development of this program, which mirrored concomitant changes in research areas within our department. Overall, although there is a critical interdisciplinary role for soil science within the ES arena, at many universities, ES is changing the role of soil scientists, as environmental issues become more prominent in urban areas as well as in production agriculture.
The ecological and economic values of wetlands have only recently been realized by scientists and policy makers. Wetlands are poorly understood relative to most terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, due in large part to the complex nature of these systems combined with a paucity of process-related wetlands research. Historically, soil scientists were confined to research related to agricultural production. More recently, soil scientists in several disciplines have become involved in wetland-related research, including wetland delineation and flooded soil biogeochemistry. Past research in wetland ecology often ignored or minimized the importance of the soil as a component of the ecosystem. During the last few years, however, the soil subsystem has become a more prominent part of ecological research in wetlands. Furthermore, the importance of soil chemical and physical characteristics as indicators of wetland status and delineation has been increasingly recognized. Several examples of past and current roles of soil scientists in wetland research are presented. Present and future opportunities are numerous for expansion of the soil scientist's role in wetland research. Soil scientists must take the initiative in becoming an integral part of interdisciplinary teams for wetlands research, extension, consulting, or formulation of policy and regulations.
This paper reviews the areas where there can be productive interactions between soil and social scientists. To date, much research has been carried out on the chemical and physical processes at play in the soil system while less emphasis has been placed on the interaction between the soils and the socio-economic system. This is surprising given the pivotal role that the socio-economic system plays in determining the physical and chemical fate of soils. To date, the value of interactions between soil and social sciences have not been recognized. If the major issues facing the agricultural research community are to be resolved, then it will be necessary for the physical sciences (including soil science) to interact more closely with the social sciences. The social science community for its part, must also change its current practices and re-evaluate its research direction.
The contribution of the soil scientist to land use planning mainly consists in the identification of land units and the assessment of their soil-related opportunities and limitations for various land utilization types. With a land use scenario study for the Flemish region in Belgium as an example, it is demonstrated how a soil map, static soil information, and pedotransfer functions can be used in a practical qualitative-semiquantitative application. Recent insights into the nature of soil variability and soil processes have promoted the use of quantitative land evaluation procedures, based on soil data bases, pedotransfer functions, and simulation models. The fact that soil maps, soil data bases, and pedotransfer functions do not provide all required data for simulation models hampers the breakthrough of quantitative land evaluation. The lack of data potentially negatively affects the reliability of the final assessment. The need for an in-depth uncertainty analysis before turning from qualitative-semiquantitative to quantitative land evaluation is underlined and illustrated for the case of vulnerability assessment of pesticide leaching.