The long, long travel from rock to soil (I)

There is hardly a subject in all nature, of which the majority of people has so unclear terms and which has hitherto been so completely misunderstood, as the soil on which they walk.

F.A. Fallou

Soil is often considered as the skin of the Earth and is located at the interface between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. Air, water, rock and living beings interact to form soil, which, in turn, is the physical and nutritional support for living organisms in emerged areas. Currently, we define soil is an open system that temporarily stores the necessary resources for living organisms. The availability of these resources (water, energy, mineral nutrients, etc.) depends on the intensity and speed of exchange processes between soil and the rest of compartments of ecological systems.

Soil in the interface, by Antonio Jordán. Distributed by Imaggeo.

But the concept of soil has been modified in accordance to the increasing understanding of its components and the relations among them. During centuries, soil was considered not more than dirt on rocks, when not simply one of the strata in geological profiles. See, for example, the following statement: “That all the earthy part of soil consists of minute fragments of rock does not require argument, or need proof, but inspection merely to determine it. We have only to place specimens under the magnifier and their rocky origin will become manifest” (Eaton and Beck, 1820). Continue reading


Notes on the Short Course on Forest Fire Effects on Soil Properties (EGU2014)


Convener: Paulo Pereira  | Co-Conveners: Guillermo Rein , Antonio Jordán , Claudio Zaccone , Lorena M. Zavala

In this edition of European Geoscience (EGU) 2014 Assembly we organized a short course on Forest Fire Effects on Soil Properties. As in the previous course organized in EGU 2013, we think that the objectives were largely achieved. The attendance was high (Figure 1) and the participants were very intervenient during the entire course. This was an excellent opportunity to share and transmit in a simpler way some important aspects of fire effects on soil properties. The topics covered were, Vegetation controls on debris flows in burned areas, Kevin Hyde Wyoming Centre for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics USA (Figure 2), Assessment of Temperature Reached in Fire-affected Soils with NIR, Raúl Zornoza Department of Agricultural Science and Technology, Polytechnic University of Cartagena Spain (Figure 3), Forest Fires effects on Boreal Soils, Kajar Koster, Department of Forest Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland (Figure 4), Ash and soil interdependence in post-fire environments, Merche Bodi, Spain (Figure 5) and Forest Fires impact on soil biology, Evgeny Abakumov, Department of Applied Ecology, Saint-Petersburg State University, Russian Federation (Figure 6). Courses are an excellent opportunity to communicate information and show potential research gaps that Master and PhD students can be focused in the nearest future. In the final of the course, the organizers delivered certificates of attendance to speakers and participants. In the name of the organizers thank you very much for the participation. For the next EGU we have already some ideas for new courses, soon we will inform you all. See you next year!!!!

Participants of the Short Course on Forest Fire Effects on Soil Properties.


Kevin Hyde during the presentation of “Vegetation controls on debris flows in burned areas“.


Raúl Zornoza during the presentation of “Assessment of Temperature Reached in Fire-affected Soils with NIR“.


Kajar Koster during the presentation of “Forest Fires effects on Boreal Soils“.


Merche B. Bodí during the presentation of “Ash and soil interdependence in post-fire environments“.


Evgeny Abakumov during the presentation of “Forest Fires impact on soil biology“.



This post has been published previously in the EGU Blog Network.

Boring Soil Science strikes back

_MG_6145 ok
“Boring” speech under a bridge and heavy rain during a fieldtrip some years ago (II Iberian Congress of Soil Science, Seville, Spain). Author unknown.

Many scientists are currently debating whether soil science is an academic field in which scientists are engaged in talking to each other, ignoring the rest of society. Of course, traditionally, the dissemination of soil science has been a difficult field. Among other problems, some scientists have reviewed the use of complicated jargon.

Soil Science academics work in increasingly smaller and smaller niches, talking to ever smaller groups of their peers (

May be. Or may be not. Jargon is not for Pete:

Fotos Mexico 2006 082
Boring teachers (me with blue T-shirt and Lorena, orange) and bored students talking complicated boring jargon during a boring field trip in Mexico. Do you see the phone number in the bus? Never call to rent a vehicle.

Obviously, the jargon used in the scientific literature is not appropriate for disclosure of any scientific subject. Nor is this the goal of high-ranked scientific journals (perhaps some day we could talk about what is actually the impact factor, but today I had a happy day and do not want to ruin it). Some people also have mentioned the lack of amateurs compared to other disciplines such as Geology, Medicine, Botany and Astronomy.

Really no amateurs? Me, Javier, Yare (my daughter) and Pablo during field sampling. Credit: Loreto Limón.

Personally, I think an article on any of these subjects may also be so boring (or more) that an article on soils. But, probably, also the lack of amateurs is that soil science is a discipline of synthesis for which they lack previous knowledge and is difficult for people to become fond of it as children, for example.

Learning how a field infiltrometer works. Bubbles, bubbles! Credit: Antonio Jordán.

Or maybe I’m terribly wrong and we, soil scientists, just have to motivate, decide to do something to remedy the situation and stop being bored. Although not the only option (enjoying your own work is another, possibly), blogs and social networks are valid instruments for attractive and interesting dissemination of  science.

Jorge assisting Pilar with a very complicated experiment. Credit: Jorge Mataix (the “boring” uncle).

So today I ‘m going to put my two cents in the popularization of Soil Science putting here a list of  soil blogs I like. One of my favourites is Un Universo Invisible Bajo Nuestros Pies (An Invisible Universe under our Feet), by Juanjo Ibáñez. It is in Spanish, my native language (yes, I know you know: my English is sometimes deplorable). Many times I am not in full agreement with Juanjo’s opinions, but I have to admit that finding arguments to contradict him is hard for me. He is also a colleague whom I admire (and extremely funny).

Lorena (left), me (with hat), and Félix (right) being assisted by a little hobbit during soil sampling.
Lorena (left), me (with hat), and Félix (right) being assisted by a little hobbit (Mauricio) during soil sampling. The hobbit looks bored.

Do you know more interesting blogs? What ideas do you have to improve the dissemination of soil science? Why not telling your experience? Send it to me. C’mon, are u bored?

Do you need more litter, Antonio?


This post was published simultaneously in the EGU Blog Network.

Seminar series: Applied Earth Observation Techniques for Archaeology and the Environment


Cartells_PDF_eng_pngThese seminars aim to explore and promote the use of Earth Observation (EO) techniques for different aspects of archaeological and paleoenvironmental research, including prospection/detection, classification, mapping and modeling. The variety of EO-related topics that will be presented in these seminars reflects some of the current trends in remote sensing applications in archaeological contexts.
Focusing on new approaches to interpret existing datasets, as well as entirely new remote observation technologies, the talks will explore concepts ranging from multi-temporal image analysis and radar data to hyperspectral imagery and the use of aerial drones in archaeological applications:

  • 20/03
    A review of remote sensing in archaeology: past, present and future perspectives
    Dr. Rosa Lasaponara (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)
  • 27/03
    Remote Sensing of the Earth Surface: a guide for practitioners
    Dr. Agustín Lobo (Institut de Ciències de la Terra Jaume Almera-CSIC)
  • 03/04
    Satellite radar in archaeology: prospecting and preserving cultural landscapes and heritage sites
    Dr. Deodato Tapete (Univeristy of Durham)
  • 10/04
    Breaking new ground from the air: some recent technologies for the benefit of aerial archaeology
    Dr. Geert Verhoeven (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute)

The seminars will take place at at 18.30 at the Seminar Room, Department of Prehistory, Ancient History and Archaeology (1st floor), Faculty of Geography and History, University of Barcelona (C/Montealegre , 6, 08001 Barcelona; see map below).
The seminar series is organized by CaSEs research group (Complexity and Socio-Ecological Dynamics, IMF- CSIC) and AINUBHA (Association of postgraduate researchers in Archaeology, University of Barcelona).


EGU2013: Short course on methods and techniques to study soils affected by fire


Site and shedule

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

15:30 – 17:00

Room R2


Convener: Paulo Pereira (Mykolas Romeris University, Lithuania)

Co-Conveners: Antonio Jordán (University of Seville, Spain), Guillermo Rein (Imperial College London, UK), Victoria Arcenegui (University Miguel Hernández, Spain), Xavier Úbeda (University of Barcelona, Spain), Lorena M. Zavala (University of Seville, Spain)


Fire is a global phenomenon with important implications in many world ecosystems. Tropical, temperate, Mediterranean and boreal areas are affected recurrently by fire, which has shaped these ecosystems, altered their characteristics and changed their distribution. Thus fire is considered as a natural element with a wide range of diverse impacts. Among these, the impact on soils is the objective and focus of the course. Continue reading

Little soil scientists (II)

Jorge Mataix Arcenegui (the one with a blue scoop) is son, nephew and grandson of great soil scientists. Here, he is being assisted by Pilar Torres Martínez, mycorrhizal fungi expert at the University Miguel Hernández in Sierra de Mariola (Alicante, Spain) during a field experiment.

Hobbit assisted by Pilar during field work. Photo by Elena Lozano.