At Biosphere 2 scientists are studying how rocks weather and erode to create new SOIL and how that new soil fosters microbes, nutrient availability and plant growth. WATER carries bits of broken rock down from the mountains, then the rivers carry them along the valleys, sometimes all the way to the ocean. Minerals from eroding rock allow microbes and plants to grow. Soil creation and erosion is part of the much larger ROCK cycle. 


Soil Evolution

Soil, water and nutrients are all components of Earth’s ecosystem. The sun provides heat and energy to speed the erosion process. As the minerals from the eroded rock encourage plants to grow, decaying plants mix with the soil to make it even richer and more productive.    

This is why the most fertile farmland is found in river valleys and why early humans settled near rivers where they empty into oceans. It would be very hard to have food to eat if we had no soil.

Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO) At Biosphere 2

Fertile soil can disappear into the ocean with erosion, or be less productive as less water—in the form of rain or snow—falls on the landscape.      

At Biosphere 2 we have built giant hillslopes to study how water moves through soil, how soil forms, and how microbes and the atmosphere are involved in the cycling of important elements such as carbon and nitrogen, says Biosphere 2 researcher Dr. Peter Troch. The soil changes each time we “rain” (in precise amounts from sprinklers) on the hillslopes, usually in hard-to-see ways. By adjusting the amount of water and the temperature, we can better understand the fate of water in a warmer, drier world and how soil, and therefore food production, might be affected. 

November 2016