Is soil a renewable material?
Some natural resources, such as sunshine, win and geothermal power are renewable resources but others are not so obvious. A definition of renewable might be ‘a resource that naturally renews itself and is always available for use without human intervention.’ Soil doesn’t fit this definition of a renewable resource.
Soil can be classified as both renewable and non-renewable. Strictly speaking, soil renews itself over thousands of years as natural weather processes combine with recycled vegetation to form new soil. Soil could also be considered as non-renewable, because the renewal process takes longer than a single human lifetime.
Video – Soil is not a renewable material.
Is soil a renewable or non-renewable resource in your lifetime?
The definition of a renewable resource must always be qualified by ‘in our lifetime.’ Natural resources are used extensively by human beings for:
- Food – for both people and animals
- Fuels – for heating and vehicles
- Providing the basis for eco-systems to support living creatures
Soil is renewable but not in a short space of time. It is man’s impact that causes the problem, due to the pace at which we use natural resources like soil.
Some natural resources, like the sun and the wind, and geothermal resources, are always there and can be converted into energy without depleting the source. Soil isn’t like this. There is a finite amount that is renewed very slowly.
Estimates of the length of time for fertile top-soil to form varies, but it’s at least 500 years per 2.5cms, which is obviously too long for man’s purposes. I suspect this estimate is a little light and is more closer to 1000 years.
Why is soil not renewable?
Soil is not renewable by any man-made process. That is, it can’t be manufactured artificially in anything like the quantities need to sustain agriculture. The process is understood, but it can’t be copied by man.
The global eco-system is finely tuned so that one sub-system creates or supports another. Soil formation begins with water acting on rocks that are naturally formed in the earth’s crust.
Water seeps into the tiny crack and crevices of porous rocks. When the temperature drops below freezing the water expands and cracks it open into ever-smaller pieces. The end product of this action are fine particles.
Vegetation rots and mixes with the new soil, and is further enhanced by moisture and the action of worms and other insects. Over hundreds of years the soil can eventually support growth by providing plants with a medium for spreading roots to find water and nutrients.
What makes soil potentially renewable?
This is a question that really needs to be answered if the human race is going to survive in the long-term. Soil is potentially renewable if soil husbandry was seen as a priority and not just a ‘nice thing to do’.
By 2050 it is estimated that there will be 9 billion of us on the planet and that agricultural output will need to be increased globally by 60%. In Africa, where most of the population rely on the land for food and shelter, this figure is about 100%.
Considering that we lose over 36 billion tons of soil every year, and much of this soil is being degraded by humankind, it seems an impossible task.
Instead of nurturing soil as a vital natural resource, civilization continues to degrade it without regard for the future consequences. The changing climate patterns are also eroding and re-distributing top-soil, often to areas that are innaccessible or difficult to farm.
Infographic – Soil Is A Non Renewable Resource
What causes soil erosion?
Soil erosion is caused by many things:
- Natural water erosion from rain
- Wind – when soil is laid bare by deforestation and animal grazing
- Chemicals – fertilizers and pesticides disturb the insect balance and deplete the soil
- Desertification – lack of vegetation lead to redistribution by wind
A close relative of soil erosion is degradation, either by pollutants or by lack of crop rotation. For decades, thousands of acres of fertile top-soil have been dedicated to wheat growth, year-in, year-out.
For centuries, farmers have known that different crops need different nutrients and crop rotation is needed if the soil is to remain in balance and given chance to replenish nutrients. In the USA, for eample, this is not happening, or hardly at all.
Agribusiness often relies on improving crop yield by feeding improved Genetically Modified Crops with artificial nutrients in order to maintain and increase productivity.
It seems a logical, universal law that man’s ingenuity cannot replace nature’s processes, and the end result of such interventions may be disastrous. However, science can be used to develop strategies for safeguarding the soil we have.
How do you classify soil?
The easiest way to classify soil is by particle size. The table below shows a very simplified representation:
Table – Soil classification by particle size
Finer than sand
Holds water well
Slippery (wet), powdery (dry)
Between silt and clay
Water drains easily
Gritty, wet or dry
Sticky, very hard when dry
Decayed dead organisms
Holds water very well
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Can soil be replaced?
Soil is being replaced naturally all over the world, but the pace is thousands of years long. This is much, much slower than the rate at which erosion is removing those vital layers of topsoil needed for plant growth.
Many scientists around the world are exploring the possibility of replacing lost soil with artificial soil in sufficient quantities to maintain plant-based food supplies for our growing population.
Can artificial soil be created?
Research into creating artificial soil is centered around mixing various grades of silt, loam and clays to form the basic consistency of soil and mixing it with organic material.
The aim is to simulate natural soil, particularly it’s plant-growing properties. This is a complex task that isn’t entirely successful until now. The natural process is very complex and includes a whole micro-eco system of bugs to make it work.
Although technically feasible, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is the sheer scale of the problem. Billions of tons of soil are needed each year just to keep pace with erosion and degradation.
Why soil is a resource?
Soil is a resource that is vital to mankind’s existence. Many cultures rely on the soil for growing plants and trees that provided shelter and heating. The whole of mankind relies on soil for food to a great extent
The oceans have provided food for thousands of years but we are finally exhausting this valuable resource to the point where we could kill the oceans if fishing restrictions aren’t introduced.
Soil is just one resource often considered inexhaustible but this is simply not the case. Absolutely nothing is never-ending – even the sun will go out in 4 billion years.
What will happen if soil is exposed to any human activity?
The sad fact is that human activity is detrimental to all natural processes, often upsetting the ecological balance in unforeseen ways.
For centuries mankind’s use of natural resources like soil were taken for granted. The land masses were covered with vast amounts of soil, as far as the eye could see, but over time the important topsoil became thinner and of poorer quality.
Agribusiness attempts to redress solar degradation with improved efficiency, often including chemicals to feed plants and fend off pests. This can only make the situation worse in the longer term and can never replace the natural processes that create soil in the first place.
It seems modern man cannot help put pollute and nowhere is this more evident than in the soil. Runoff from factories, pig farms and indiscriminate dumping all contribute to soil poisoning.
Is soil a limited resource?
We’ve all seen the signs at our local garden supply store: “soil is a finite resource,” “soil is a limited resource,” “we must protect our soil resource.” But what does it mean to say that soil is a “resource”?
Is it true that soil is a limited one? The word “resource” is used in many contexts to refer to some material or supply from which we extract something that is useful or valuable.
In the context of the soil, however, the word “resource” is often used in a way that suggests soil is not a continuous, renewable supply, but rather a limited, finite supply that is being rapidly depleted.
Even though soil is a biological, not a chemical, resource, this common language is still used to refer to soil as if it were a supply that can be easily quantified and measured.
But soil isn’t a resource like wood or water; it’s a biological substrate on which all life depends and which can’t be replaced or regenerated once it is gone. So how can we conserve soil when so much of the language used to describe it is misleading?
The answer lies in the distinction between the soil as a resource and the soil as a ecosystem.
What might happen if there is no soil?
Soil is a critical element, a bio-regulator, a food, a shelter, a building block of life, a water table, a wind, an essential part of the earth’s biosphere. The soil is the foundation of the world.
It is the place where plants grow and take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. It is the place where animals live, and it is the place where humans live as well. Man was not meant to live without soil.
However, modern man has polluted the soil to such an extent that he is now struggling to survive on a dying planet. The human race would no longer exist as a species. The only creatures that could survive would be some insects.
We are all part of the soil biome.