Can the Pedosphere Concept be used to Reposition Soil Science Education?
Dr. Noorallah Juma, Founder/Team Leader, Pedosphere.Com & Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta
Dr. Noorallah Juma's teaching interests are in Soil Microbiology, Soil Biochemistry, Soil Ecology, General Soil Science, Soil Remediation, Soil Fertility and Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture. In order to position Soil Science in the context of Earth System Science, he launched 'The Pedosphere and Its Dynamics: A Systems Approach to Soil Science' series with the publication of Volume 1 titled 'Introduction to Soil Science and Soil Resources' in print. This textbook also has web-based interactivity for enhanced teaching and learning. These resources are being used by a wide variety of publics: Students (K-12), teachers, undergraduate students, professors, professionals and the public at large, who are interested in Agriculture, Forestry, Ecosystem Science, Environmental Science and Earth System Science. These activities have transformed him into a global educator.
Soil Science is taught in major Universities in Departments of Soil Science, Geography and Geology in many parts of the world. In North America, the Soil Science Departments are mainly located within the Faculty of Agriculture or Forestry while the Geology and Geography Departments are in the Faculties of Science and/or Arts. Over the past 100 years, a tremendous amount of research and teaching has been conducted in these Departments and significant outputs of highly trained personnel and applications of knowledge to solve societal problems pertaining to agriculture, forestry, environment, land use and human settlement have been developed. Generally, there are institutional barriers which limit students from the Faculties of Science and/or Arts to take Soils courses in Faculties of Agriculture and Forestry. Also, students taking undergraduate soil science courses from different departments get very different perspectives of soils.
In June 1998, I attended the Earth System Science Education Workshop which was held at the University of Michigan. I came across a curriculum review document titled 'Shaping the Future of Undergraduate Earth Science Education' produced by the auspices of the American Geophysical Union. The following sentence caught my eye: 'The study of the connections and the interactions between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, solid earth and near space is emerging as the foundation of Earth System Science'. As a Soil Scientist, I do know that the greatest interaction between organisms, water, air and minerals occurs in soil, the skin of the Earth. I was really amazed not to see an explicit mention of soil in this definition.
It was obvious that the word 'soil' would not fit into the definition because the major components were described as spheres. On further reflection, I discovered that the word 'pedosphere', defined as the envelope of the Earth where soils occur and where the soil-forming processes are active, would fit perfectly into the definition of Earth System Science. The term pedosphere was coined by Sante Mattson in 1938. Mattson described the soil as an entity which represents the sum of the mechanical and the products of the chemical interaction of four spheres: the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere and the biosphere. He then described the pedosphere as the sphere of all spheres, i.e., the pedosphere develops at the intersection of four spheres: the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere and the biosphere. He also noted that in nature, it is possible to encounter three-sphere and two-sphere systems in which one or two of the spheres are missing.
In the soil science literature, pedologists have used the term pedosphere to represent the collection of soils worldwide. Over the past 100 years, soil scientists have developed classification systems and soil survey maps and have collected large amounts of data on physical, chemical, biological and pedological properties of soils around the world. At present, these data are used to access plant productivity, organic matter accumulation in soil and calculate the amount of atmospheric carbon which can be sequestered in soil as soil organic matter. The term pedosphere is now appearing more frequently in the research literature as the soils information gets integrated in the realm of Earth System Science.
The challenge facing the global soil science community is to bring their knowledge and expertise into the realm of Earth System Science. At present, the soil science knowledge in under represented in the curricula of Earth Science courses. I think a break through can be achieved if the knowledge of soil science is packaged using the pedosphere concept. Let us examine the following revised statement: 'The study of the connections and the interactions between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, solid earth, pedosphere and near space is emerging as the foundation of Earth System Science'. The soil science community is already participating in issues such as climate change, carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas production, land use and cover change, anthropogenic soils, reclamation and so on. However, it seems that we have an uphill battle to assert ourselves in the science curriculum.
At the Earth System Science conference, I was inspired to develop a textbook series 'The Pedosphere and Its Dynamics: A Systems Approach to Soil Science' and establish Pedosphere.com. I think that we can make soil science a core subject in the curricula of many faculties . A much larger number of undergraduate students from the Faculties of Arts, Science, Engineering and Education should at least take an Introductory Soil Science course to learn about the pedosphere and its connections to other spheres of human activity. It is a daunting task but the first step to develop the resources for the new curriculum has been taken!
I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please send me e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org