Saturday, 15 July 2006

Is Pedology, the Historically Maligned and Misunderstood Sibling of Soil Science, Alive and Well?.

Donald L. Johnson, Univ of Illinois, 607 So. Mathews, 220 Davenport Hall, Urbana, IL 61801, John Tandarich, Dominican Univ, 7900 W. Division St., River Forest, IL 60305-1066, and Leon Follmer, Illinois State Geological Survey, Univ of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801.

In 1997, Basher bravely published a paper in Australian Journal of Soil Research with the title “Is pedology dead and buried?” It followed a 1953 paper by Leeper in Soils and Fertilizers titled “What use is pedology?” Earlier, in 1940, a less brave (anonymous) editorial (same journal) wrote an “Obituary Notice” forecasting the demise of pedology as a discipline. This maligning history began two years earlier with another anonymous editorial in the same journal (1938), again with the question “What is the use of pedology?” Hmmm, four statements published in two respected refereed journals, two by journal editors, questioning the purpose and/or justification and/or future of pedology and/or its lack of support, with dire warnings of its impending demise! These questions and statements over the past 68 years were up front, in titles! Actually, similar questions about pedology were insinuated even earlier, and others more recently via Internet communiqués, though more gracious and less provocatively stated. So what is it with the discipline of pedology? In this paper we try to answer this question. We do this by listing some key historical developments and issues that we think helped foster the environment for such remarks. We end by answering the question posed in the title, then answer the same question directed to pedology's next of kin, paleopedology. So, what's going on in pedology? The answer involves a range of multifaceted and complex historic-disciplinary issues. Some are blurry, some clear, but all relate to the very substance of pedology, to its history in different countries, cultures, and societies; to how it has been defined, and to its theoretical base and functional role. The issues relate to how pedology has been viewed as a science, and its being claimed in whole or part by different fields under different names at different times (e.g., agricultural chemistry, agricultural geology, geology, geography, agronomy and soil science, and more recently ecology). Geopolitics and interdisciplinary philosophical differences apparently have played a role. Also likely involved were disappointments that followed overly ambitious intellectual-practical expectations for pedology during its checkered formative period (1880s thru 1930s). Lack of resources, personnel, and government support was the main motivation behind Basher's latter-day statement, but motivations for the others turned on various issues, including perceived uselessness of the field for practical applications. A long-term issue has been lack of a firm and visible niche for pedology within the pantheon of earth and agricultural sciences. In this regard, pedology has had long linkages with geology, physical geography, and agriculture. Linkage with agriculture was especially strong in its soil survey-classification programs, with attendant utilitarian-economic ramifications. Owing to this link, pedology as a discipline understandably coevolved with soil survey and classification programs. In the process it absorbed a 1870s-80s all-purpose genetic-theoretical formulation for mapping, classifying, and “explaining” soils -- the “five factors” (clorpt) approach that underpins genetic soil science. While ideal for mapping and classifying soils, and for generally assessing soil landscapes, and augmenting agro-economic programs, the “clorpt” approach was not designed to treat the complex and dynamic processes that we know today produce soil. For this reason, the five factors model prescribes a limited explanatory-interpretive domain for pedology. And partly because of this shared theoretical-genetic commonality, many soil practitioners equate pedology with soil science, though others do not. Interestingly, Fallou in his landmark 1862 book, Pedologie oder allgemeine und besondere Bodenkunde, early touched on this very issue.This brief synopsis provides a backdrop for our position, that pedology -- and paleopedology -- contrary to such naysaying, both have exciting and bright futures -- at least in Earth sciences. Both are "alive", well, and gaining new respect and practitioners. New theory is being developed that encourages new views of soil genesis, views that significantly aid in unraveling complex and dynamic soil processes. Recent analytical and dating techniques allow previously unrealized genetic assessments of surface soils, and better age dating of buried soils. So, OUR answer to the question posed is an exuberantly firm Yes! And paleopedology? It also gets a firm Yes!

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