A Celebration of Soil

Joe Duggan, Communications

December 05, 2023

Most everyone has grabbed a fistful of soil while working in a garden at one time or another. But did you realize the incredible power you held in your hand?

A bit of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

A natural filter for rivers, lakes, oceans, and aquifers.

Resistance to drought and a buffer against flooding.

The source of the food that nourishes us. 

We take soil for granted, but just like water and air, soil is essential for life.

Raising awareness of soil health and sustainable management of soil resources is the purpose behind World Soil Day, observed annually on December 5. For some, however, every day is soil day.

Olsson soil scientists Ted Hartsig, Freddie Mayer, and William Avery, help clients tap into the many benefits of healthy soil in the built environment. Properly balanced soil is essential to sustainable and resilient environments and restoring ecosystems. Healthy soil supports successful landscape architecture, resilient turf and vegetation, effective stormwater bioretention systems, and vibrant park environments.

Our scientists work closely with engineers to restore soil for plant growth, overall resiliency, and sustainability. Balanced, healthy soil enables many of our project sites to better withstand the human and environmental pressures placed on them. We also develop soil and vegetation management planning to stabilize streams and shorelines and serve renewable energy facilities.

Soil science has been central to our involvement in projects visited by hundreds of thousands of people. Some of these include Gateway Arch National Park and Kiener Plaza in St. Louis, Waterloo Park in Austin, The Port Lands in Toronto, Gathering Place in Tulsa, and Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, D.C. We’ve also provided soil consulting for campuses owned by technology corporations and we’re working on a freeway overpass that provides a safe passage for wildlife near one of the world’s largest cities.

The projects are challenging and fascinating, but not any more than the soil they involve. Many people don’t recognize that soil is a living, dynamic system that requires the proper balance of physical, biological, and chemical properties to function in an optimal manner. When any of these properties fall too far out of balance, soil is in trouble.

When healthy, however, soil does truly remarkable things. Here are just a few:

  • Soil acts as a carbon sink that absorbs and stores an estimated 25 percent of carbon emissions from human activities each year. Along with the oceans and forests, soil is a top three carbon sink.
  • Topsoil is directly and indirectly responsible for 95 percent of the food we eat.
  • Soil hosts billions of individual fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates, a type of microbiome which regulates the carbon, nitrogen, and water that feeds plants and supports the planet.
  • Important antibiotic, antifungal, antidepressant, and cancer drugs responsible for fighting disease have been derived from soil.

Perhaps because it’s under our feet, many don’t see the threat to soil from contamination, erosion, and degradation. It’s a serious problem that represents one of the primary reasons World Soil Day was created.

Soil sustains the world, from our urban environments and economies to our farmlands and natural environments. So, the next time you hold a bit of soil in your hand, take a moment to appreciate it.