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........ published in NEWSLETTER # 55

by Dr. M.D.A. Rounsevell and Dr. P.J. Loveland, Cranfield University, Silsoe (U.K.)

Soil is one of the three great natural global resources, the others being air and water. Soil is the medium in which we grow our food, produce our timber and often dispose of our waste. It is also the medium which often acts as a filter between the three media, and is seen to have an important role in the cycling of green house gases.

Global climate change will affect soils without doubt. However, given the complexity of the systems involved, the understanding and interpretation of the response of soils to such change, requires a multidisciplinary approach to their investigation. Given the importance of soils to human activity, the proper prediction of how they might respond to climate change, or how the processes which they mediate might respond, is of prime importance. Changes in the ability to grow certain crops in 'traditional areas', or of the types of crops which might be grown, of their yields (up as well as down), change in the diversity and distribution of other plants, in the storage and flux of water and salts within soils, can all be of enormous importance in the way we use land. A particular aspect is the speed at which such changes might occur, given that very large parts of the world have enormous investment in, for example, food production, based on knowledge accumulated over long time spans. A truly global aspect of the work is an understanding of how and what soils contribute to, or remove from, the atmosphere in terms of green house gases.

This ASI, held at the Soil Survey and Land Research Centre,Silsoe, England, in September 1993, brought together a wide range of soil scientists, chemists, physicists, biologists, microbiologists, and geographers, many of them with a strong interest in the modelling of soil processes over time. The ASI considered landscape evolution, desertification, soil salinisation and irrigation, crop modelling, soil hydrology - especially in structured soils, nitrogen dynamics, the carbon cycle and soil microbial processes. In addition to these formal papers and their discussion, the volume (NATO ASI SERIES I23) also contains the texts of 15 poster papers, and a final summary paper which looks at possible directions of future work. The main theme which comes out of the latter is the need for a multidisciplinary approach.

This ASI reflects this need as it sits at an interface, as do soils themselves. It relates to other ASIs on the carbon cycle, atmospheric gases, plant related environmental stress, biodiversity, and climate variation, to name just a few. All of these ASIs point to the same need, namely, that the approach to climate change and the natural world must be based on a multidisciplinary approach, and that such an approach will serve to improve the prediction of the effects of climate change. Whole ecosystem modelling is clearly a field in which considerable progress remains to be made, and to which the ASI programme could clearly contribute through future meetings.
Reference books: B215, C63, C217, C390, C468, E172, E190, G32, I23

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