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Earth is one of the most underrated and little understood wonders of our planet.
There are wonderful things under your feet, says Bridget Emmet, a soil specialist at the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology, and, in the following words, she explained to the BBC why she believes that.
Far from being dirt, it is estimated that in a single gram of soil there can be up to 50,000 species of microscopic organisms.
In a single teaspoon, there are more microorganisms than people on Earth.
But much of what is down there, in this deep and hidden universe, is still alien to us.
1. It is unknown but invaluable
Despite being literally under our feet, humans have so far only identified a small fraction of the extraordinary life that abounds underground.
However, the animals and microorganisms that we know of we know play an invaluable role.
Millions of years of evolutionary competition have led microorganisms to produce antibiotic compounds to fight their neighbors.
And these compounds form the basis for many of the antibiotics that humans use. Literally we make medicines from our soil.
No one knows how many new treatments there might be under our feet, waiting to be discovered.
2. It is the home of one of the most important animals
One of the most special creatures that lives in the ground is the earthworm.
A Charles Darwin the fascinaban and said: “It is doubtful that there are other animals that have played such an important role in the history of the world.”
Darwin spoke of the importance of the earthworm in the creation and maintenance of the soil.
As they travel through the land, the worms make holes to breathe, like lungs in the ground.
That creates space for plant roots to grow and keeps the soil alive.
3. It is the headquarters of vital exchanges
Under the ground, there are also vast and intricate networks of mushroom threads.
Plants and fungi need each other to thrive.
Fungi can’t capture carbon dioxide to grow like plants can, but they are better at extracting nutrients from the soil, so they barterPlants give fungi carbon to grow and fungi give plants nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.
It is a win-win relationship and an example of the interconnected ecosystem of which we are all part.
Plant matter breaks down and provides food for microbes. These, in turn, provide food for the worms. Worms are food for birds, etc.
The earth provides us humans with almost everything we eat. But it is not just about what the soil can do for us.
4. From below protect what is above
Soil is also a really valuable carbon store: it captures carbon and locks it up in stable forms deep underground.
Stores three times more carbon than all the plants on Earth combined, including trees.
But we need to protect what we have. And we are not succeeding.
We know many of the problems. Intensive agriculture is one of them. Releases carbon from our soils.
In Europe, it is estimated that between 60 and 70% of soils are unhealthy, according to the 2020 Independent Expert Report of the European Commission.
UK farmland, for example, lost in less than 30 years – since the late 1970s – more than 10% of the carbon that the soil had stored, according to the Land Report 2007.
It is simply not known, because in many countries there is little data on the land. It is poorly protected and regulated.
And it is crucial that we value, appreciate and protect it.
Think about it for a moment
It takes more than 100 years to make 5 millimeters (half a centimeter) of soil, according to the study by Alastair Fitter of New York University, published in the Journal of Ecology in 2015 under the title “Visible Darkness”.
But in just a moment what took a century to produce is destroyed, be it by chemical pollution, urbanization, landslides, erosion and more.
There are soils that are very old, millions of years old. The oldest soil on Earth is believed to be in South Africa and It dates back to 3.000 millions of years.
But we are losing land at a rate 50 to 100 times faster than you might think.
We grow on it, we build thanks and on it.
It filters and cleans our waters, reduces flooding and regulates our atmosphere.
It is one of the most biodiverse habitats on the planet and a vital part of the nitrogen and carbon cycle.
But the sad truth is that, right now, the earth doesn’t have enough people to fight for it.
We treat it like dirt, even though there is so much untapped potential, so many secrets and wonders waiting to be discovered on the ground beneath our feet.
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Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.