Come Visit Us Today at ExploreACES!

Hello all!

If you are heading out to ExploreACES today, be sure to come check out The Soil and Water Conservation Society booth, in room W-121 of Turner Hall! We have some awesome soil stuff to show you guys, and you can learn a little more about our club, and how to join! Here are some pics of what to look out for!IMG_7639IMG_7640IMG_7641IMG_7642IMG_7643


South Korean Soils and the DMZ

South Korean Soils and the DMZ

When most people go hiking they never really think of the northern part of South Korea, right next to if not on the Korean Demilitarized Zone or the DMZ, as the place to do so. But both the US Army and the Republic of Korea, ROK, Army tend to do that quite a bit. One of the main concerns faced by soldiers on the DMZ is not just the threat looming next door, in North Korea, but the soils. That’s right, the soils.


Unfortunately, the soils around the DMZ contain far more than rock, organic matter and random debris. Sadly, the soils often harbor landmines, and other surprises left over from the Korean War. This, in combination with the type of soils found around the DMZ, known as brown earth, and the weather patterns in the Korean peninsula makes for rather dangerous conditions. The brown earth soil tends to leach clay and other minerals as well as becoming easily saturated and slippery, thus allowing for the monsoon season rains to wash out mountain sides and move debris, such as landmines, to the surface of the soil.

Several areas around the DMZ, and in it, are known to contain unexploded ordinance but every monsoon season soldiers take a chance because of the movement of the unstable soil. Landslides, washouts, and other similar events are also prevalent in the Korean mountains.

So, it’s interesting to think about just how soils influence our environment and how deadly they can be, whether that is because of human intervention or because they can cause natural disasters on their own. Respect and caution should be used when dealing with the earth.


References and Further Reading

Soils of Korea:

Brown Earth in Japan:

Brown Earth in Europe:

Written by Kristina B. Hartley, UIUC, SWCS Treasurer 


The Loss of Chernozem: Russia’s Black Soil Tragedy and the Use of Folk Knowledge in Soil Conservation

Russian Chernozem mao.png
Old Map of Russian Chernozem Prevalence

Chernozem, a fascinating soil, named for the Russian words that translate to “black earth”, is recognized as a unique soil type by the United Nations and Canadian system of soil classification; Chernozem can also be described as a Mollisol in the United States soil classification system. Chernozem soils are prized, and known, worldwide, as soils with some of the highest rates of fertility which are tied to high crop yields. Although Chernozems can be found in a few regions around the world, such as Canada, they are mostly contained within the boundaries of the Russian Federation, thus earning their name and renown.

Untouched Chernozem Soil Horizons

Recently, I came across an article in the journal, Sustainability, which talked about the loss of Chernozems in Russia and some possible efforts at restoration through the utilization of tree windbreaks. This method is considered a traditional “Russian peasants” approach, so I found it rather fascinating that it was taken on by scientists from around the world. This subject also immediately drew me in because I am interested in both the restoration and conservation of soil, as well as the human influence on their environment, and traditional cultural approaches to conservation that can be utilized on a larger scale.

A Group of Trees Act as a Windbreak, an Example from the US

 According to the article, and my experience, through agricultural intensification, and a substantial absence of care, degradation of chernozems has become quite the problem. To my knowledge, the ordinary people, and the government, both cultivated this invaluable soil but only small villages ever attempted at any conservation of this soil, mainly through uses of available manures, windbreaks, crop rotation and various folk approaches. Not all of the villagers efforts worked, and some may have degraded the soils further, but an attempt was still made, which, to me, demonstrates concern for the environment and thus a sense of responsibility to conserve. So, ordinary people are probably not the most at fault for the losses of Chernozem.

Regardless of that, and very, unfortunately, through a combination of the government’s intensification efforts, a lack of soil management knowledge and, a general lack or care for the understanding of soil chemistry, and later, overexploitation by private companies Chernozem losses in Russia are at an all-time high. However, there is now data to support folk knowledge that a simple thing like planting vegetation, to act as a windbreak may help preserve and save the Chernozems. Read the full article and other related materials below:

History of East European Chernozem Soil Degradation; Protection and Restoration by Tree Windbreaks in the Russian Steppe:

Russian Soil Classification:

Land Resource Maps, and Data, of Russia:

Image Sources:

Soil Maps of the World:,%20Krasilnikov,%20Bockheim).pdf

Windbreaks and Crop Yield:

Written by Kristina Borisovna Hartley, UIUC SWCS Treasurer


Letting Soils Solve Sewer Problems


The Soil Science Society of America recently published an interesting article outlining yet another use of soil in today’s infrastructure.

The article reports on Sally Brown, a Professor at the School of Environmental and Forest Services and the University of Washington, encouraging the use of bioretention basins as opposed to the sometimes harmful or expensive process of sewer drainage to rivers and streams.

Bioretention is defined as:  the process in which contaminants and sedimentation are removed from stormwater runoff. Stormwater is collected into the treatment area which consists of a grass buffer strip, sand bed, ponding area, organic layer or mulch layer, planting soil, and plants.

Here are some diagrams and photos of bioretention basins for visualization: VASWMBMPSpec9BIORETENTION_clip_image014.gif




It is easy to see how soils naturally filtering ability would be useful in this situation!

Read the full article at:


by Sabrina Kelch – VP

Check Out Our Bulletin Board!

Hey soil lovers!

The next time you’re in Turner Hall, head up to the 5th floor and check out our new bulletin board right outside the NRES office! You can see cool pictures of past events and get an idea of the fun stuff that we do regularly in the club. You can also find our email on there, so please contact us with any questions, or if you’re interested in joining! For now, here are some pictures of us decorating the board, and the finished product. Go see for yourself!


What Happened to the Water in Flint?

As a soil lover myself, we often find this blog highly focused on all things soils when in reality we are the soil and WATER conservation club. Well I think it is time to embrace the water side of our little organization especially because water has been such a hot topic in the news lately, particularly the news of Flint Michigan’s Water Crisis.


The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a disaster and means a lot for public health. So how did a city of 100,000 residents live off of lead contaminated water for over a year? And if this has been happening so long, why is this just becoming national knowledge in 2016?

flint water
Citizens in Flint, MI showing the water that comes out of their tap

Follow the story of some of Flint’s residents to get the story below.


Wanting to read more on this disaster?

This article on gives a good description of exactly what went wrong through the failings of governmental organizations.

Want to help?

What we do know is that this is a terrible injustice that has happened to a mainly impoverished community that was denied what should be a basic right. What can you do to help? Well if you’re at the University of Illinois, the African American Culture Center is hosting a Water Drive on February 1st (Checkout the event here:

Below is also some other links you can follow and find out ways to help:

United Way of Genesee County:  Flint Water Fund

GoFundMe campaign: Flint Water Study

The Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF): Flint Child Health and Development Fund

Happy World Soils Day!

GSP_banner_EN.jpgDecember 4th is designated as World Soils Day by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations!

A quote about World Soils Day from the FAO,

“Soils have been neglected for too long. We fail to connect soil with our food, water, climate, biodiversity and life. We mc186827b19.jpgust invert this tendency and take up some preserving and restoring actions. The World Soil Day campaign aims to connect people with soils and raise awareness on their critical importance in our lives.”

In honor the FAO will be celebrating at their headquarters in Rome as well as in their regional offices throughout the world!

The theme this year is,  “Soils a solid ground for life.

This theme is to represent the often forgotten fact that every organism on Earth depends on our soils for life. This includes you! From the food we eat to the ground we live and build our houses on, soils are the foundation for our lives. Because the ecosystem services soils provide such as clean water, nutrient cycles and decomposition are often overlooked, people forget how valuable soils truly are. We often take soil for granted and because of this, degrade our soils with overgrazing and poor agricultural practices.

So in honor of World Soils Day take a minute, before you eat your lunch or dinner, to think of where your food came from and thank soils for all they do.

If your looking for more ways to celebrate, the FAO will be holding events all over the globe as an opportunity to come out, have fun and learn about soils!

The closest celebration in our neck of the woods is going to be held at the Institute of Environmental Sustainability, Loyola University Chicago by Dr. Bala Chaudhary.

Follow this link to see more information and the full event list:

Here is a final factoid from the FAO, Enjoy your Friday soil lovers!

“Did you know? Soil is the basis for food, feed, fuel and fibre production and for services to ecosystems and human well-being. It is the reservoir for at least a quarter of global biodiversity, and therefore requires the same attention as above-ground biodiversity. Soils play a key role in the supply of clean water and resilience to floods and droughts. The largest store of terrestrial carbon is in the soil so that its preservation may contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation. The maintenance or enhancement of global soil resources is essential if humanity’s need for food, water, and energy security is to be met.”

UC-Berkeley’s Photoblog: “Soil Hunting in Southern Patagonia”

University of California-Berkeley does a monthly newsletter for their Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) where they share what’s new in the department and it’s research. One of their spotlights this month was titled “Soil Hunting in Southern Patagonia”.  Marco Pfeiffer, a ESPM grad student and professor Ronald Amundson traveled to Southern Chile to study the relationship between soil, climate, and landscape. They documented their time in the Patagonian region of Magallanes in South Chile in this  photoblog:

The blog features great pictures of spodosols (one of the most handsome soil orders in my opinion)and talks about the interesting conditions of the region. I highly encourage everyone to check it out!

You can subscribe to UC-Berkeley’s ESPM Newsletter on the bottom of their homepage Here

Ogallala Aquifer Initiative

The Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) recently received $8 million in funding from the USDA to improve water conservation practices across eight states. The eight states include mostly of all Nebraska and sizable sections of New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. With the help of the USDA and NRCS, farmers and ranchers will establish sustainable agricultural practices such as the use of cover crops or improving irrigation systems. Practices such as this will aid in tackling water scarcity. For more information, please check out the link below! Also, did you know that the Ogallala Aquifer supplies about 30% of all irrigation water in the U.S.? I bet you want to double click that link now!