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Don't overlook urban soil

MADISON, WI, JUNE 20, 2007 -- If you were looking for fertile soil, its doubtful youd begin your search in most U.S. cities. After all, urban soils are often viewed as drastically disturbed soils with low fertility. However, new research by a team of scientists working in Baltimore discovered that surface soil characteristics were not necessarily infertile and varied widely, making it difficult to define or describe a typical urban soil. Although the more conspicuous effects of urban disturbances on soil have been considered by researchers, other factors associated with urban land transformations have received limited attention. These various effects create a mosaic of soil conditions, ranging from natural to highly disturbed soil profiles.

To examine the effects of land use and cover on soils, researchers from USDA Forest Service and the University of Maryland Baltimore County sampled and measured the physical and chemical properties of surface soils from 122 Baltimore plots. Researchers report their findings in the May-June 2007 issue of Soil Science Society of America Journal.

This research was part of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), an ongoing effort to understand urban ecosystems, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

According to the authors of the study, Land use and cover may serve as an indicator of disturbance, site history, management, and the urban environment. By measuring the chemical and physical differences among various soil plots, scientists hoped to determine whether land use or cover was the cause of differences and what specific soil properties best differentiate the land-use and cover types.

Chemical analysis of Baltimores soils revealed high chemical variability, while physical measurements of soil were less variable.

In general, levels of essential nutrients in Baltimores soils were adequate for plant growth, but in some cases calcium levels were excessive, making those soi
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Contact: Sara Uttech
suttech@soils.org
608-268-4948
Soil Science Society of America
20-Jun-2007


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