The Soil Underfoot: Infinite Possibilities for a Finite Resource, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Soil Underfoot

Infinite Possibilities for a Finite Resource, 1st Edition

Edited by G. Jock Churchman, Edward R. Landa

CRC Press

472 pages | 29 Color Illus. | 121 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2014-04-21
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The largest part of the world’s food comes from its soils, either directly from plants, or via animals fed on pastures and crops. Thus, it is necessary to maintain, and if possible, improve the quality—and hence good health—of soils, while enabling them to support the growing world population. The Soil Underfoot: Infinite Possibilities for a Finite Resource arms readers with historical wisdom from various populations around the globe, along with current ideas and approaches for the wise management of soils. It covers the value of soils and their myriad uses viewed within human and societal contexts in the past, present, and supposed futures.

In addition to addressing the technical means of maintaining soils, this book presents a culturally and geographically diverse collection of historical attitudes to soils, including philosophical and ethical frameworks, which have either sustained them or led to their degradation. Section I describes major challenges associated with climate change, feeding the increasing world population, chemical pollution and soil degradation, and technology. Section II discusses various ways in which soils are, or have been, valued—including in film and contemporary art as well as in religious and spiritual philosophies, such as Abrahamic religions, Maori traditions, and in Confucianism.

Section III provides stories about soil in ancient and historic cultures including the Roman Empire, Greece, India, Japan, Korea, South America, New Zealand, the United States, and France. Section IV describes soil modification technologies, such as polymer membrane barriers, and soil uses outside commercial agriculture including the importance of soils for recreation and sports grounds. The final section addresses future strategies for more effective sustainable use of soils, emphasizing the biological nature of soils and enhancing the use of "green water" retained from rainfall.


"…the book includes a varied selection of papers and should encourage soil scientists to have a wider perspective on their subject."

—D.A. Davidson, in European Journal of Soil Science

Table of Contents

Section I Future Challenges

Climate Change: An Underfoot Perspective?

Kevin R. Tate and Benny K. G. Theng

Soils and the Future of Food: Challenges and Opportunities for Feeding Nine Billion People

Sharon J. Hall

Soil Loss

Nikolaus J. Kuhn

The Finite Soil Resource for Sustainable Development: The Case of Taiwan

Zeng-Yei Hseu and Zueng-Sang Chen

The Far Future of Soil

Peter K. Haff

Section II Valuing Soils

Seeing Soil

Deborah Koons Garcia

Picturing Soil: Aesthetic Approaches to Raising Soil Awareness in Contemporary Art

Alexandra Toland and Gerd Wessolek

Principles for Sustaining Sacred Soil

Norman Habel

Indigenous Māori Values, Perspectives, and Knowledge of Soils in Aotearoa-New Zealand: Beliefs, and Concepts of Soils, the Environment, and Land

Garth Harmsworth and Nick Roskruge

Integrative Development between Soil Science and Confucius’ Philosophy

Xinhua Peng

Soil: Natural Capital Supplying Valuable Ecosystem Services

Brent Clothier and Mary Beth Kirkham

Section III Culture and History

Bread and Soil in Ancient Rome: A Vision of Abundance and an Ideal of Order Based on Wheat, Grapes, and Olives

Bruce R. James, Winfried E. H. Blum, and Carmelo Dazzi

The Anatolian Soil Concept of the Past and Today

Erhan Akça and Selim Kapur

Deconstructing the Leipsokouki: A Million Years (Or So) of Soils and Sediments in Rural Greece

Richard B. Doyle and Mary E. Savina

Knowledge of Soil and Land in Ancient Indian Society

Pichu Rengasamy

The Evolution of Paddy Rice and Upland Cropping in Japan with Reference to Soil Fertility and Taxation

Masanori Okazaki and Koyo Yonebayashi

Importance of Soils in Farming-Centric Lessons for Life and Culture in Korea

Rog-Young Kim, Su-Jung Kim, E. Jin Kim, and Jae E. Yang

Terra Preta: The Mysterious Soils of the Amazon

Antoinette M. G. A. WinklerPrins

Modern Landscape Management Using Andean Technology Developed by the Inca Empire

Francisco Mamani-Pati, David E. Clay, and Hugh Smeltekop

Indigenous Māori Values, Perspectives, and Knowledge of Soils in Aotearoa-New Zealand: B. Māori Use and Knowledge of Soils over Time

Garth Harmsworth and Nick Roskruge

Potash, Passion, and a President: Early Twentieth-Century Debates on Soil Fertility in the United States

Edward R. Landa

Soil and Salts in Bernard Palissy’s (1510–1590) View: Was he the Pioneer of the Mineral Theory of Plant Nutrition?

Christian Feller and Jean-Paul Aeschlimann

Section IV Technologies and Uses

Poetry in Motions: The Soil Excreta Cycle

Rebecca Lines-Kelly

Global Potential for a New Subsurface Water Retention Technology: Converting Marginal Soil into Sustainable Plant Production

Alvin J. M. Smucker and Bruno Basso

Double Loop Learning in a Garden

Richard Stirzaker

Valuing the Soil: Connecting Land, People, and Nature in Scotland

John E. Gordon, Patricia M. C. Bruneau, and Vanessa Brazier

Sports Surface Design: The Purposeful Manipulation of Soils

Richard Gibbs

Section V Future Strategies

Soil Biophysics: The Challenges

Iain M. Young and John W. Crawford

Life in Earth: A Truly Epic Production

Karl Ritz

Sustaining "The Genius of Soils"

Garrison Sposito


About the Editors

G. Jock Churchman holds a BSc(Hons) and a PhD in chemistry from Otago University in his native New Zealand, and a BA(Hons) in philosophy from Flinders University of South Australia. He was a post-doctoral fellow in the Soils Department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was then employed in the New Zealand Soil Bureau, DSIR for 16 years and in CSIRO Division of Soils (later Land and Water) for 14 years. He also held visiting fellowships at Reading University (1 year) and the University of Western Australia (6 months). Currently he is adjunct senior lecturer in soils at the University of Adelaide and part-time associate professor in the Centre for Environment Risk Assessment and Remediation at the University of South Australia. His research has been centered on clays. He is currently (2010–2014) chair of the IUSS Commission on the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Soil Science.

Edward R. Landa holds an MS and PhD in soil science from the University of Minnesota, and is an adjunct professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology at the University of Maryland, College Park. His work at the U.S. Geological Survey from 1978 to 2013 focused on the fate and transport of radionuclides and metals in soils and aquatic systems. Throughout his career, Ed has had an active interest in the history of science and technology, and has published on the radium extraction industry, description of color in science and art, and depictions of soils in films. He co-edited Soil and Culture (Springer, 2010) with Christian Feller, and has served as the chair (2006–2010) and vice chair (2010–2014) of the Commission on the History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Soil Science of the International Union of Soil Sciences.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
NATURE / Environmental Conservation & Protection
SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Botany
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / Agriculture / General