It’s loamy, clayey or sandy. We build our homes on it, grow our vegetables in it, and we play in it. Soil means different things to different people – childhood memories conjure up images of it being tracked across mom’s living room carpet, the weekend gardener will appreciate a rich black loam and a tourist enjoys the bucolic view of a tractor plowing a country field. Living in cities however, nearly half the world’s population might just think of it as ‘dirt.’

Soil is more than dirt. It is a complex mixture of minerals and organic matter that provide a rich medium for plant growth. It takes a long time however, for Mother Nature to make good, fertile topsoil – from 40 to 100 years for an inch. Dead leaves and roots are gradually mixed with the minerals by the activity of worms, mites, bacteria, and other organisms living in the soil.

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Advancing Science. Informing Solutions.

  • In the Brazilian Amazon Basin, WHRC studies how recent clearing of forests for agriculture affects what goes on below ground, including losses in soil fertility, production of greenhouse gases, and the quality of stream water.
  • In New England, WHRC studies the legacy of 19th century farming and more recent forest harvesting on soil properties in the regrowing forests of the region. We demonstrate how human management of the soil influences the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the wood we use to build houses, and the climate that we enjoy.