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Global soil library will help us better know the living skin of planet Earth

23 April 2020
Setting universal standards will assist planetary health
A global initiative led by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has this week launched the Soil Spectral Calibration Library. The University is a founding member of the project.
Professor Alex McBratney.

Professor Alex McBratney.

Soils are the basis of life and while humanity is building extensive genomic libraries there is no comprehensive library of the soils upon which much of life on Earth relies.

That gap in human knowledge is being filled this week with the launch of a global system of universal standards to measure and classify soils across the planet.

The University of Sydney is one of just two universities worldwide that are founding members of the initiative, which is led by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The initiative will develop global capacity to use world-best spectroscopy to analyse and classify soils, which will provide an invaluable resource for agricultural and environmental scientists everywhere.

Professors Alex McBratney and Budiman Minasny are two of the world’s most highly cited soil scientists and together they are leading the University’s collaboration with the global initiative. Professor McBratney is Director of the University of Sydney Institute of Agriculture and Professor Minasny leads the Carbon, Soil and Water Theme within the institute.

Professor McBratney said: “Soil is the living skin of our home, planet Earth. Yet we don’t have a common framework by which we can understand the health of this precious resource. That changes with the launch this week of the Soil Spectral Calibration Library.

“This soil library will provide enormous benefit for the future of human societies as we develop capability to feed the 10 billion people we expect by 2050.”

Professor Budiman Minasny.

Professor Budiman Minasny.

Professor Minasny said: “The soil library will prove essential in our work to understand and control climate change. By understanding our soils, we can learn about the impacts of deforestation, carbon capture, land clearing and degradation.

“And by teaming up with the world’s best scientific institutions to deepen our knowledge of soils, we provide an open-source resource for the agricultural industry in the developing world to ensure people are fed, healthy and prosperous.”

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said: “Our involvement in this initiative shows how seriously we take our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“It’s because of work by scientists like Professor McBratney and Professor Minasny that we have just this week been named number two in the world and first in Australia in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for sustainable development.”

The Soil Spectral Calibration Library and Estimation Service will provide a freely available and easy-to-use soil estimation service. The initiative will support countries and laboratories to harmonise and build capacity in soil spectroscopy methods (including soil sample selection, soil preparation, spectral measurement and quality assurance of data analysis), including through developing standards and protocols.

The library and service are under the Global Soil Partnership and implemented by the Global Soil Laboratory Network.

The foundation members of the global alliance are:

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