Soils in the spotlight: Alfred Hartemink on the International Year of Soils

Alfred Hartemink

Have you heard? 2015 is the International Year of Soils. Soil science professor Alfred Hartemink was kind enough to answers some questions for eCALS about what that means. Hartemink, who joined CALS in 2011, just recently ended his term as secretary general of the International Union of Soil Sciences and was involved in making this year-long celebration come together.

eCALS: Why are soils so important?

Hartemink: Most of our food comes from the soil, we live on it, walk over it every day, and we are so dependent on it for our welfare. Healthy soils act as a filter for contaminants and they are the basis for plant growth. Soils store large amounts of carbon and they also have an incredibly high biodiversity. Soil science expertise is now recognized to be essential at all scales and on all continents for studies on the environment, agriculture, forestry, water, climate change and biodiversity.

eCALS: Why was 2015 declared the International Year of Soils? What’s that all about?

Hartemink: We started working on the idea some 12 years ago. In 2006, we celebrated the International Year of Planet Earth in which soils was a major theme. Now, with the help of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, we have a full year devoted to soils. It fits the reviving and renaissance of the soil science discipline. There will be major efforts internationally to bring soils into the general public and policy arena, and there will also be many scientific conferences, workshops and meetings. So in essence it will be about an enhanced appreciation of soils by the general public and about advances in the science.

eCALS: How is the soil science community going to celebrate – on the UW campus, in the United States, around the world?

Hartemink: There will literally be hundreds or events, mostly at the national scale. For example, the Soil Science Society of America has devoted each month to a particular theme that reflects the diverse nature of soils (see: There will be a number of large international and highly visible events. In our CALS soil science department there will be an ad hoc committee that will instigate a series of smaller and larger events, mostly related to over 125 years of research and outreach on the soils of Wisconsin. We will also host a global soil science workshop in June.