Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

The new faces of soil research

In 2006 the International Union of Soil Sciences challenged 55 of the world’s leading soil scientists with the question ‘what is the future of soil science?1 Originating from 28 different countries, with varied careers and research areas, the responses these soil science ‘superstars’ provided were startlingly similar.

Their answers paint a picture of an evolving field of science that includes emergent themes such as:

  • Understanding the complexity of the soil ecosystem and all its dynamic interactions
  • The increasing use of sophisticated technologies to understand, measure and manage soils
  • The interaction of soil science with other science fields necessitating cooperation, effective communication and data sharing with other disciplines
  • The socialisation and humanisation of soil science, including how soil relates to society and its goals
  • The opportunity of the science to contribute to resolving real problems in policy, regulation and practice
  • The requirement for soil scientists to coalesce, synthesise and disseminate knowledge effectivel

In this issue of Soil Horizons we explore how, 10 years on, some of these ‘faces of soil science’, predicted in the IUSS ‘Future of Soil Science’, manifest in New Zealand science and application. The articles that follow highlight new and ongoing research to understand system complexity, including a previously unknown nitrogen cycle pathway that may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve aquatic ecosystems; a holistic Maori view of forest resilience within a tukutuku o te ora (web of life) and how this might be enhanced using trees own naturally occurring microbiota (mahi ngātahi – resilience through collaboration); and some emergent research showing soil carbon may increase on intensively farmed and irrigated dairy pasture.

Several articles demonstrate how new technologies can contribute to resolving science conundrums, including quantifying riverbank erosion; development of a phone app to allow instantaneous remote monitoring of soil moisture status and control of irrigation equipment; and cost-effective scanning of soil samples through the use of vis-NIR spectroscopy that will provide insight in soil processes and properties on a global scale.

This issue also provides an update on an MBIE-funded programme on Innovative Data Analysis, which aims to develop better tools and infrastructure to facilitate use of existing soils data to support environmental reporting and decision making. The recent adoption of global interoperability standards for soil research data leaves us poised on the brink of a new era in global collaboration in soil research.

Finally, and critical according to those soil science superstars, we review new efforts in knowledge transfer and capacity-building. Development of a Pacific Soils Portal that would centralise soils knowledge across the Pacific and make it available for all land users looks more likely after many years working with Pacific Island countries and territories to understand knowledge needs. Within New Zealand, we showcase a collaboration with Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to run training workshops on understanding soils and using ‘S-map Online’

1 IUSS International Union of Soil Sciences 2006. The Future of Soil Science / edited by Alfred E. Hartemink. Wageningen: ISBN 90-71556-16-6