Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Soil as a Resource
Name: Sharon
Status: Educator
Grade: 4-5
Location: TX
Country: United States
Date: July 2006

Is soil a renewable or non-renewable resource? Many good references classfy soil as a renewable resource, but our 5th grade textbook says soil is non-renewable. Help!


Great question! My recommendation is, as an educator, create a problem for the students to solve. Have them research the topic in textbooks and/or the library, and present thier scientific opinion on the matter in the form of a debate or presentation.

Something 'renewable' needs to be renew-able within a relevant time period. You might present to the students how soil is formed from the breakdown of rock as well as the introduction of organic matter. Other soil components of air (within pores) and water are certainly required for soil's normal purpose. Given the time period required, especially for replacement of lost topsoil (ex. the dust-bowl days), I believe we should indeed be concerned about the non-renewable (within a relevant time period) quality of soils.

In my view, having the students hear what constitutes renewable or not, and then having them decide whether, given what they know about soil, it *is* or *is not* renewable will be more effective than memorizing someone else's (possibly differing) opinions on the topic. The investigative scientific inquiry trumps rote memorization any day. Also instructive for the students will be the presentation of different scientific opinions on the same topic. Ultimately, reasoning through this question is, I think, the best approach.

Thanks for using NEWTON!

Ric Rupnik

Click here to return to the Environmental and Earth Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory