Soil, also commonly referred to as dirt or earth, is our life support system. It is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, living organisms and water that are vital for healthy plant growth, human nutrition, and regulation of the Earth’s climates. As one of the most significant components of the earth’s ecosystem, human life without soil would be very difficult. Productive and healthy soil is a key to environmental sustainability and helps in the creation of a healthier world. Therefore, considering the rapidly deteriorating condition of soil around the world, rebuilding soil health is critical. Below are the ten reasons why soil is important:
#1. Soil for food production.
Fertile soils are the foundation for agriculture because it provides a hospitable place for plants to live and grow by providing dissolved minerals, and moderating temperature fluctuations optimal for plant growth. There are around ten thousand species of plants that are consumed as food globally, all of which depend upon soil for their sustenance. Soil teems with microscopic and larger organisms that convert dead and decaying matter to essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium; improving soil structure, which ultimately leads to improved food and other biomass production.
#2. Soil as a habitat for living biology and microbiology.
Soil is a habitat for biological beings and a reserve for genetic diversity for a large variety of organisms. None of the processes can truly be carried out without soil; hence, microbial to larger animals depend upon soil for their survival and protection. Some thrive on top of the soil, while others are found below the surface; around one-fourth of everything alive on the earth including fungi, bacteria, insects, and burrowing mammals uses soil as their habitat, all interacting to produce a complex ecosystem.
#3. Soil is a source of raw materials for industries
Soil is a complex material whose properties need to be modified for it to be suitable for construction. From ceramic plates in the kitchen to potteries that have decorated our homes are made up of soil. The seven main types of soil – clay, heavy loams, medium loams, sandy loams, sandy soils, chalk and limestone soils, and peat soils have different characteristics making them appropriate for the manufacturing of different materials like bricks, plates, vases, dyes, etc.
#4. Soil supports the root system.
Soil provides a medium for plant growth as porous structures in the soil can allow the passage of water and air. The root system of plants extends outward and downward through soil and as deeper and wider the roots goes; this anchorage allows plant roots to have access to water and nutrients. The compacted soils prevent the roots to explore due to excessive requirements in penetrative force as they must exert large physical energy to move soil particles aside. Therefore, a buildup of organic matter promoting the absence of compaction is necessary for favorable root growth.
#5. Soil provides a platform for manmade infrastructures.
Soil provides a firm and solid base for roads and highways to be built on and is widely used as a construction material for these structures. About half of the population globally lives in houses made from soil. The type of soil used will determine the building’s foundation in various ways. Among all, loamy soil combines silt, clay, and sand in their ideal proportion and proves to provide the perfect balance for supporting a foundation. On the other hand, clay, sand, and gravel tend to shift and form non-structural cracks and fissures.
#6. Soil acts as an important Carbon stock.
The soil is the largest terrestrial carbon pool and an elusive tool for climate change mitigation. Through photosynthesis, plants assimilate carbon and return some of it to the atmosphere, while the remaining carbon is consumed by animals or added to soil as litter when they die. This way a large amount of carbon is stored in the soil in the form of soil organic carbon. It is estimated that soil can sequester about 75% of the carbon pool on land which is three times more than carbon stored in living biomass. Therefore more research addressing the impacts of land management on soil carbon sequestration and ways to increase the storage time of carbon in the soil needs to be conducted to maintain a balanced global carbon cycle.
#7. Some soils have medicinal properties.
Minerals in soils have a significant impact on human health. The influence of soil on people’s health can be recognized through direct ingestion and indirectly through the transfer of nutrients to people from the soil through plants and animal sources. Clay minerals like smectites and kaolinite are commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry due to their high cation exchange release. Clay mixtures are used in the treatment of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus while Kaolin has long been used in diarrhea medicines.
#8. Soil is in our cosmetics.
Many don’t know this but the soil is the major component in the cosmetic industry and has been used in beauty products for thousands of years. Clay and clay minerals have been used as facial masks and mud baths for exfoliation, cleansing, and absorption of excess oils as a natural way to purify and soothe skin. Moreover, many blushes and foundations, and even tubes of toothpaste are made from various mineral-rich clays with different clays offering different rejuvenating and healing properties.
#9. Soil aquifer treatment.
Soil aquifer treatment is a method to recharge groundwater aquifer which uses the favorable characteristics of soil, subsoil, and aquifer. It is a natural and economically feasible way used to artificially elevate the groundwater to prevent contaminants from entering the aquifer to withdraw freshwater again at a later stage. They are constructed similarly to infiltration ponds and are often operated in dry/wet cycle to maintain aerobic conditions in the soil.
#10. Soil carries religious and cultural importance.
Every religion is aware of the values of soil and each of them addresses it differently. The significance of soils is celebrated since ancient times considering Egyptians owed their every success to the fertile soils near the Nile River where many of their gods had their connections. The Greek religion considers soil as the prime material of anthropogenesis whereas Judaism, Christianity, and Islam address soil as a ‘mother’. In various cultural areas, there are practices of body painting with earth color and putting newly born babies on the ground with a belief that soil has healing and strengthening power.