Zainab Imran, Green Blogger

All the naturally occurring components of the earth are not just interconnected with one another but each component plays a significant role in maintaining the balance of the earthen system. One such vital component of the earthen system is the soil. The lithosphere comprises the crust, which includes the soils too, and upper mantle, but the part of it that interacts with the hydrosphere as well as the atmosphere is classified as the pedosphere. It is the layer of the lithosphere that comprises the soils, and where all soil-related processes take place.

The importance of soils is depicted in the fact that soils support life on this planet. Without soils, life on this planet would not be possible. Soil layers anchor the plants rooted in them, supply them with water, nutrients, and with air for the roots. Many plants would thrive in a soilless environment, but they would be deprived of the many essential processes that are regulated by soils alone. The growth and development of vegetation, plants and trees included, is the result of complex activity that takes place in the soil layers. Dead organic matter that becomes a part of soil, is decomposed by the massive microorganism diversity that flourishes in soil. The nutrients from this organic matter, broken down by decomposers, are made available to plants, hence fulfilling their need of nutrients. Microorganisms utilize part of these nutrients for their own growth and functioning. Fungi and bacteria in soil produce substances that bind and aggregate its particles. A soil layer is not only home to microorganisms but a number of insects, worms, mites etc. are found living in soil. Some of these organisms and plants develop a mutualistic relationship where both organisms benefit and nutrient supply to plants becomes abundant.

Soils aiding in the support and growth of plants is one aspect of the significance of soils. Humans and hundreds of animals rely on plants for their sustenance. The basis of agriculture, which is the backbone of many economies and a major source of food supply to humans, are fertile and healthy soils. The health of crops grown depends entirely on the nutrients that crops uptake. In a natural setting, nutrients are added into soil upon the decomposition of dead plants but in an agricultural setting the crops that take up the nutrients are ultimately harvested, thus overtime, nutrients are removed from the soil. Which is why nutrient-deficient soils are often enriched through the addition of fertilizers to them.

A matter of concern is, the degradation of soils that is a consequence of improper soil management. Soil layers take hundreds of years to form but are degraded within several. Biological, physical, and chemical changes in the soil indicate the start of its degradation. Removed vegetation leaves soil layers vulnerable in the face of wind and water erosion.  Soils become eroded, acidic, or saline if chemical pollutants are dumped onto them.

Every year, since December 2014, World Soil Day is observed on December 05th. The sole purpose of this observance is to highlight the immense importance of soils, the formation of which is not a process of a day or two and without which survival of living organisms would be endangered. Soils possess such unique species of microorganisms that are capable of fixing nitrogen for assimilation by plants as well as breaking down some contaminants. Maintaining and sustainably managing the soils would allow ecosystems to remain healthy while human needs are also fulfilled.

About the Author: Zainab Imran is a student of MS Remote Sensing and GIS at COMSATS and hold a BS degree of Environmental Sciences. Writing is her favorite pastime.