Completely familiar yet largely unknown, soils help sustain virtually every form of life on Earth. Still, it is said that we know more about the dark side of the moon than we do about the Earth beneath our feet.
-Dig It: The Secrets of Soil exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of History
The skin of weathered rock on our planet is a complex, heterogenous matrix which supplies food to most life on earth either directly or indirectly. The study of soils encompasses a wide range of scales, from the billions of diverse microorganisms in a spoonful of soil to the arrangement of soil pedons in the landscape. Our program focuses on key biological, chemical and physical processes occurring in the soil matrix, as well as soil interactions with other key components (atmosphere, water and vegetation) of the earth system. Understanding the cycling, storage and losses of carbon and mineral elements in soils is critical for mitigating effects of global climate change and the environmental impacts of human activities. Soil also plays a key role in the partitioning and regulation of water flow and the transport and surface exchange of greenhouse gases.