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Critical Focus | Our Disappearing Dirt


2022, Volume 69:1, pp. 25-36


Brian J. Ford

Soil is not some plain substance we step on but a habitat for hungry microbe communities working diligently to make it vanish forever — spurred on by harmful human intervention.

We dismiss it as dirt. Well, people call it dirt, but to me it’s a paradise, rich in complex life and harboring all manner of mysterious creatures. Whatever you think about soil, if you want to appreciate it you should best do so soon. Dirt won’t be here long. It’s evaporating before your eyes; give it half a century and most of it will be gone. And why? Because microbes like to consume the organic component of soil. They metabolize it, converting it to carbon dioxide and water vapor, and it simply floats off into the air. It leaves nothing behind.

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