Integrated Perspective

The University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) is an important center for educating students in the environmental sciences and the social factors that drive environmental decision making. The Soil Science Group based in the Geography Department at UCSB is responsible for training students, and for conducting basic research, in the critical role that soil plays in human affairs and global functioning. Soil is a fundamental natural resource; it is the basis of human agriculture. Civilizations rise in regions blessed with rich soil; they fall when humans fail to maintain good soil tilth. We must understand the distribution and management of soil to maintain a productive society.

Further, soil plays a critical role in the biophysical and biogeochemical functioning of the planet. On the continents, soil forms the boundary layer where the biosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere interact. Processes occurring within soil serve special functions for each Earth subsystem. Carbon fixed from the atmosphere by plants is recycled to the atmosphere, accumulated in the soil, and/or carried into the hydrologic cycle by leaching waters. The same is true of nitrogen. Other life-sustaining nutrients are released from minerals by weathering enhanced by biospherically produced acids. Excess nutrients and non-essential elements are fixed into secondary soil minerals or leached. Clear knowledge of these processes is essential to designing environmentally sound management schemes for our planet.