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Soil - Elements and Minerals

Soil is a critical component of the Earth’s life support system. It plays a vital role in (1) determining human health and ecosystem integrity; (2) supporting food production; (3) water storage and ground water recharge; and (4) global Biogeochemical cycles of carbon, phosphorus, nitrogen, and other essential nutrients in the environment. Soil is also the medium into which many communities dispose of solid and liquid wastes from households, agricultural operations, and industrial processes. Through ingestion, inhalation, or dermal absorption, soil can be a pathway for potentially toxic chemicals of natural or human origin to enter the human body (Oliver, 1997; Abrahams, 2002, 2012; Plumlee and Ziegler, 2003). In addition, soil is the primary source of biologically active trace elements that reach humans through the food chain (Oliver, 1997). Although soil is important, our knowledge about the concentration and spatial distribution of naturally occurring elements in the soils of North America is remarkably limited (Smith and others, 2013). At present, there is neither a common soil geochemical database for the continent of North America nor a sound understanding of the processes that might control the variation in elemental composition at the continental scale (Smith, 2009).

In 2001, the Directors of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), and the Mexican Geological Survey (Servicio Geológico Mexicano, SGM) jointly recognized the need to establish a soil geochemical database for the continent of North America. These three agencies subsequently established the North American Soil Geochemical Landscapes Project (NASGLP) to address this issue.

Learn more about the Geochemical and Mineralogical Maps for Soils of the Conterminous United States

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