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Hawaiian soils reveal clues to cultural history

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Oliver Chadwick is a doctor of dirt. The soil scientist or biogeochemist, as he is known in some circles is helping to shed light on the historical interactions between people and their soils in Hawaii.

Chadwick, a professor of geography and environmental science at UC Santa Barbara, has been sponsored in this research by a special National Science Foundation program, "biocomplexity in the environment," linking the social sciences and the natural sciences. The results of his work have been published in two major scientific journals in the past year.

One of the world leaders in relating soils to ecology and earth system science, Chadwick belongs to a prominent research group in ecosystem studies at UCSB. His research utilizes Hawaii as a model ecosystem to understand changes in the sources of nutrients to rainforests. Chadwick explains that Hawaii is also an ideal place to study the interaction of humans and the biosphere because it serves as a natural laboratory since it is enclosed and isolated, and because humans arrived there relatively recently, perhaps around 1200 years ago.

For these studies, Chadwick and his team which includes ecologists from Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin joined with archaeologists at UC Berkeley and the University of Hawaii. Together they discovered that the emergence of warriors, priests and rulers in Hawaii before the Europeans arrived in 1778 ultimately depended upon the quality of soil available for cultivation. Studies of soil and the history of agriculture in Hawaii tell the story of a human dependence on environmental processes.

Chadwick's recent journal articles describe the work in detail. "Environment, Agriculture, and Settlement Patterns in a Marginal Polynesian Landscape," co-authored with soil scientists and archaeologists and published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS), recounts the study of more than 3,000 a
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
18-Apr-2005


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