February 2010 Archive: Soil News


These news stories, which concern soil and soil-related topics, have been gathered from various sources on the Internet.  I try to pick one article each day to highlight. Sometimes I will select two articles. Sometimes it will be a slow news day and I won’t find any to highlight.  The full articles are located off of this site. Click on the title to see the full article. I will keep links on this page for about a month. View the Archive for a list of older articles.

‘Pesticide Drift’ Eluding Efforts To Combat It (NPR, 28 Feb 10)

[Audio and transcript] The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a ban on pesticide spraying near schools, hospitals and child care centers. In California alone, pesticides carried on the wind from fields sicken hundreds of people each year. The EPA is also considering new labeling guidelines warning against pesticide drift.

Carbon and no-till fields (The Gisborne Herald, 27 Feb 10)

Soils managed with no-till tend to have more diversity and organic carbon in the soil, are less prone to erosion and water loss, and have better structure than tilled soils. Because of this increase in carbon, no-till has been proposed as a means of reducing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. This article describes research at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on the impacts of tillage type, nitrogen, and phosphorus on carbon storage.

A Vintner Discusses Global Warming (Wall Street Journal, 26 Feb 10)

French winemakers are trying to adapt to the rising temperatures that have changed their local climate over the past thirty years. Some winemakers are changing the varieties of grapes they grow to those more tolerant of warmer temperatures. Countries like Denmark are starting to get into winemaking. The problem is that wine require the right balance of soil and climate.

New generation of fertilizer research based in Shoals (Times Daily, 25 Feb 10)

The International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama is working to develop more affordable and environmental friendly fertilizers that can be used around the world. Conventional fertilizer such as nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere or is washed away by rain, polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans. Controlled-release fertilizers reduce the amount of fertilizer lost to the environment but are too expensive for farmers in developing countries.

Purple Phototrophic Bacteria in Flooded Paddy Soil (CO2 Science, 24 Feb 10)

Purple phototrophic bacteria (PPB) are thought to be one of the key players in global carbon and nitrogen cycles and are crucial to nutrient cycling in rice fields. Inoculating PBB in rice paddy flood water could increase grain yield by 29%. PBB is also thought to be capable of fixing nitrogen. These phenomena and the rising CO2 levels could be used to boost rice production.

First images from ESA’s water mission (PhysOrg.com, 23 Feb 10)

The first calibrated images from the ESA’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission are being delivered. SMOS makes global observations of soil moisture and salinity in the oceans to improve our understanding of the earth’s water cycle. These first images are of brightness temperature which measure the radiation emitted from the earth’s surface.

MSU online class helps educators use dirt to engage kids in science (MSU News Service, 23 Feb 10)

Montana State University is offering an online graduate course, “The Dirt on Soil Science,” to help teachers engage kids in science through “dirt”. Participants learn the basics of soil science and use hands-on activities to discuss environmental issues such as water quality and natural resources.

UC-Davis Team Reviews Mitigation Efficacies of Vegetated Buffers (Environmental Protection Online, 22 Feb 10)

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, analyzed data from more than 300 papers to develop statistical models that describe the mitigation efficacies of vegetated buffers. Vegetated buffers are used to reduce agricultural nonpoint source pollution but there has be a lack of quantification of their efficacy in this role. The statistical model establishes the relationships between buffer pollutant removal efficacy and buffer characteristics such as buffer width, buffer slope, soil, and vegetation types.

Roots key to second Green Revolution (EurekAlert!, 21 Feb 10)

Penn State plant scientist Jonathan Lynch believes that root systems will be the basis of the second Green Revolution as it focuses on beans and corn that are tolerant of poor growing conditions. African subsistence farmers need a less expensive and less complicated approach that does not require irrigation or fertilization. Lynch has produced bean varieties that thrive in low phosphorus soils. Lynch has plans to work with soybeans next and currently his group is also working on developing maize varieties.

Scientists Vacuum up the Data on Dust (ABC News, 20 Feb 10)

A panel of scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science focused on dust this past Friday. Dust can be carried thousands of miles in the atmosphere. Dust can carry substances and diseases that are harmful to plants, animals, and humans. At the same time dust can fertilize land and oceans. Dust can also affect the climate.

Public sector getting greener (Montreal Gazette, 20 Feb 10)

The increasing focus on environmental issues by governments and federal stimulus funding in Canada is opening up a number of green jobs in the country. Environmental professionals are in demand for new green remediation technologies, reclamations project, major infrastructure construction, and more. Most public sector organizations have an environmental component and there are research facilities in the federal and provincial governments.

Agronomy, Crops, Soils Societies Offer Scholarships, Fellowships (Newswise, 19 Feb 10)

The American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America are accepting application for several scholarships and fellowships for undergraduates and graduates in the fields of agronomy, crop, soil science, or a related discipline. Applications are due by March 23.

Soil retains moisture from first rains for a long time (Down To Earth, 17 Feb 10)

A team of researchers has found that the first rains entering dry soil after summer are locked securely in the soil pores. Hydrogeologists had previously thought that the water from the first rain would be replaced by water from subsequent rain. However this might not hold true for all soils and all watersheds.

Plant buffers may limit spread of antibiotics (Scientist Live, 15 Feb 2010)

Researchers at the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry have found that buffer strips of grasses and other plants can trap and break down antibiotics in manure fertilizers. There has been concern that 30 to 80 percent of the antibiotics used in livestock end up excreted in waste rather than being absorbed by the animal. When this manure is used to fertilize agricultural lands, the antibiotics can end up in streams, lakes, or rivers via runoff. This in turn could lead to the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

Eye on the environment: ‘Compostable’ packaging is not always better (Ventura County Star, 14 Feb 10)

This article compares the environmental effects of the new compostable packaging with traditional plastic bags. While 8 percent of global oil production goes toward making plastic, products made from vegetable oil may require greater shipping distances and fossil fuel to get to you. Also the production of some crops are energy intensive.

Questions About Biofuels’ Environmental Costs Could Alter Europe’s Policies (The New York Times, 12 Feb 10)

New studies that focus on the total environmental impact of biofuels could be used to kill biofuel policies in Europe. European governments agreed that only biofuels that reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent compared to fossil fuels would be considered. The governments also directed the European Commission to account for the volume of emissions created with forest or land is cleared to replace food production lost to biofuel crops. Some believe that would rule out biofuels from crops currently produced in the European Union.

Fertilizer Is Acidifying Chinese Land ( ScienceNOW, 12 Feb 10)

Adding to China’s challenge to feed one-fifth of the world’s population on 7 percent of the world’s arable land is new study that suggests unnaturally acidic soil is caused by excessive fertilizer use over the past 30 years. For almost all soil types in China, soil pH has dropped 0.13 to 0.80 units since the early 1980s.

Spent ammo’s harm to environment is debated (The Tennessean, 11 Feb 10)

While lead in paint, gasoline, and drinking water is prohibited, there is no federal law addressing lead contamination from ammunition in hunting grounds and firing ranges. Lead shot can poison dove, ring-neck pheasants, quail, and other birds that eat the pellets off the ground. The lead can also spread in the food chain and contaminate water and soil.

Could chicken manure help curb climate change? (USA Today, 11 Feb 10)

Chicken manure can be incinerated to produce a charcoal-like substance called biochar which can be added to the soil as a fertilizer and helps retain carbon in the soil. The carbon in biochar is more resistant to conversion to carbon dioxide than untreated manure or plant material, so it stays in the soil longer. The heat from the incineration process is also used to keep hatchlings warm.

New nanotechnology magazine for the environment publishes first issue (Nanowerk, 10 Feb 2010)

ENT magazine is a new nanotechnology magazine that covers the latest research, applications, and opinions in the field of nanotechnology for the environment, including alternative energies, water, air and soil purification. The magazine aims to exchange information between scientists, universities, patent holders, municipalities, investors, and business.

Climate change impact of soil underestimated: study (AFP, 9 Feb 2010)

A Finnish research team called for a revision of climate change estimates. Their results showed that the current measurements underestimate the effect of climate warming on soil emissions. The scientists feel the discrepancy is large enough to require a revision in climate change estimates.

Rwanda: Population Growth Threat to Environment-REMA (AllAfrica.com, 8 Feb 10)

Environmenal Management Committees in Rwanda are being asked to curb activities leading to environmental destruction. Because of the high population rate, residents are being asked to fight soil erosion, stop illegally cutting down trees, brush burning, and cultivating in the swamps.

Changing History: Four new ways to write the story of the world (Boston Globe, 7 Feb 10)

This article discusses new, non-traditional ways that history is being studied. It’s a long article and you have to get to page 3 or 4 before you get to the soil and environmental aspects. The author discusses studying the soil from an ancient Roman town to determine its fate. Later he talks about environmental changes that destabilized societies and threatened food stocks.

Rain gardens are easy on the environment (The Vicksburg Post, 6 Feb 10)

This article summarizes the book Rain Gardening in the South: Ecologically Designed Gardens for Drought, Deluge and Everything in Between. Rain gardens capture rain runoff in your yard, store the water for plant growth, and remove pollutants that the runoff carries with it. Rain gardens are becoming more popular as communities try to establish more environmentally friendly landscapes. Rain gardens are easy and inexpensive to create in your home garden.

Topsoil could vanish in 60 years, says study (Business Green, 4 Feb 10)

A study at the University of Sydney reports that fertile soil is being lost faster than it can be replenished. A combination of soil mismanagement, climate change and rising populations are leading to a decline in suitable farming soil. It is estimated that 75 billion tons of soil is lost every year and 80 percent of the world’s farmland is moderately to severely eroded.

Proposed national standard for phosphorus derailed by critics (The Chesapeake Bay Journal, 3 Feb 10)

An effort by the US Department of Agriculture to set a nationwide standard to limit the amount of phosphorus farmers could apply to fields was pulled back after stiff opposition from some agricultural scientists. The proposal would have phased in a upper phosphorus limit of 200 parts per million in the soil, a level beyond which phosphorus is believed to leave the field in runoff or leach into groundwater. Opponents felt that one limit did not fit all soils.

Cultivation affects pesticide–soil interactions (Environmental Expert, 2 Feb 10)

While pesticides are used to enhance crop production by killing unwanted weeds or insects, they can also negatively impact humans and the environment. Researchers at Oklahoma State University found that the amount and mechanism of pesticide sorption on soil were affected by the land use and cultivation. Land use and cultivation were found to affect both the amount and the composition of soil organic carbon which in turn affect sorption onto soil.

The land of wasting food (Santa Monica Daily Press, 1 Feb 10)

According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 25 percent, or 25.9 million tons, of all the food we produce for domestic sale and consumption in the US is thrown away. A 2004 University of Arizona study puts the figure closer to 50 percent. When that food gets to the landfill, it generates the greenhouse gas methane, which is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Timothy Jones from the University of Arizona speculates that by cutting our food waste in half, we could extend the lifespan of landfills by decades, reduce soil depletion, and reduce the application of tons of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.


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