Functions

The pedosphere is an extremely active terrestrial and subaqueous layer surrounding the Earth whose functions are closely linked with other spheres. The biospheric function is the major production function as it provides soil fertility and a suitable habitat for most species of organisms, thereby supporting land biodiversity. By this function, biomass transformations occur, nutrients are supplied and cycled, and the myriad microorganisms in soil enable sustainable biological productivity, diversity, and activity. Their metabolism is the primary basis for regulation and production functions in soils. Most biogenic substance fluxes are known as biogeochemical turnovers. The Millennium Assessment indicates that more land was converted to cropland since 1945 than in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries combined, and that agricultural land uses now cover a quarter of the terrestrial surface.

Because the pedosphere is the zone of interaction between the biosphere and the atmo-hydro-lithospheres, it is commonly thought of as a reactor and regulator that functions to mediate and control fluxes of energy and substances. For example, temperatures are modified by the pedosphere and make most life, as we know it, a possibility.

The atmospheric function includes energy and moisture exchanges, respiration, and transfer of gases, including oxygen and the greenhouse gases, and is the force that transports and deposits dust derived from soils. Because of porosity and permeability, soils have a hydrospheric function to partition water in, through, and out of the pedosphere. The geochemistry of the Earth's waters are mainly determined by the influences of the pedosphere. Where resistance thresholds are exceeded, water erodes surface particles from soils and deposits sediments downstream. Soil erosion degrades soil quality and often jeopardizes sustainable uses of soils.

The lithospheric function of soils is that of a dynamic geoderma protecting landscapes and the deeper lithosphere and mitigating destructive actions of exogenous forces such as wind and water erosion, landslides, and tectonic and volcanic disturbances.

The pedosphere has an important utilization or carrier function manifested as building sites for communities and transportation networks. Soils supply materials for many types of construction, and also are critical areas for waste disposal.

Last but not least is the cultural and historical function of the pedosphere. Society's interactions with soils were initially for agricultural purposes and the lore is rich with stories and myths of the power of unseen forces to help sustain soil fertility. Soils also serve as a respository of archeological artifacts, stratigraphic markers, and memory of ancient settlement environments. In general, human attitudes that define 'self in a context and in relation to nature result in religious beliefs as ways of bringing order into the seeming chaos of nature. The biogeochemical cycling of life, from dust to dust, is such a concept. Sanctity and stewardship of resources have their roots in the pedosphere.

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