Securing a future for soil science

The soil‐science community needs to continue to redefine its disciplinary context and  expand its core activities. These measures are critical, not only to meet contemporary societal challenges and the needs and interests of students, but also to respond effectively and engage actively in central issues addressed by the scientific community (environment, climate change, food security, etc.). We think that perceived constraints on “soil science” as a discipline (i.e., that we are narrowly focused scientifically) limit the prospects of fully applying our knowledge and understanding of soil processes to address emerging societal challenges. Because the structure and image of the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) have appeared inflexible, we believe this has limited broad integration of soil science into emerging transdisciplinary science topics. We are hopeful that the current strategy and proposed SSSA activities (e.g., enhanced outreach, reorganization task force, etc.) will broaden the association and improve dialog with the wider scientific community. Nonetheless, the perception of soil science as a dynamic and rewarding professional career for established and younger scientists is in decline, the reputation of the discipline among peers in neighboring fields and by some funding agencies is alarmingly low. Image problems may contribute to the persistent decline in soil science student and faculty numbers (Baveye et al., 2006; Hopmans, 2007; Havlin et al., 2010). The rapidly shifting emphases of many early‐career soil scientists toward environmental issues confound the problem. It is therefore imperative that the SSSA take action to quickly reverse the persistent decline in key metrics—from attendance at annual meetings, to student populations and faculty in soil departments, to overall professional viability. Ironically this decrease in status is occurring when soil as a biogeochemical‐hydrological element of the biosphere is gaining prominence in the context of many societal challenges: climate and land‐use change, environmental protection, ecosystem services, food security and energy production, all while soil is undergoing profound change from human activities (Richter, 2007). Hence, in addition to building a stronger society internally, the SSSA must expand its efforts to build professional relationships with sister organizations in related environmental sciences. This white paper originated from members of the Soil Physics Division. More than 30 individuals (see Appendix I) across SSSA responded to an earlier draft; their suggestions are incorporated in this final version. We seek to chart a path forward—from the ground up—and to complement the agenda of other task forces/committees.

Source: Dani et al. 2011. Securing a future for soil science – A white paper


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