Is soil a renewable resource?
Well, yes and no. If we treat the soil carefully using good gardening and
farming methods, the soil is renewable. However, if we cover the soil with
tar from a parking lot, that soil is lost as a renewable resource. The same
applies to water. If we use it wisely, it renews itself, but if we pollute
it with chemicals and sludge it may be lost for a long time as a resource.
It depends upon us.
In general, a resource may be defined as either: “A concentration of naturally
occurring solid, liquid or gaseous material in or on the earth's crust, in
such a form and amount that economic extraction of a commodity from the
concentration is currently or potentially feasible." Or: "Any form of matter
or energy obtained from the physical environment that meets human needs."
For matter to be considered a resource, we must take into account the current
technology, economics, cultural beliefs, human ingenuity, environmental effects
of finding and using it, geologic plausibility, and economic feasibility.
I would argue that the term renewable resource be discontinued because resources
are commonly classified by rate of renewal (three types).
Non-renewable resources exist on Earth in a fixed quantity, are replenished over
geologic time (millions of year), are generally mineral or fossil fuel in origin,
are exhaustible, or it costs too much to extract. Some examples of resources that
fit this definition include: oil, natural gas, coal, copper, and uranium.
Potentially renewable resources are replenished on short time scale (months to
years) and are generally biological or solar. The rate of use of this type of
resource is important – it must be sustainable. Potentially renewable resources
can become non-renewable resources if not managed sustainably. Some refer to
potentially renewable resources and sustainable resources. The use of the term
renewable resource does not reflect the true nature of this type of resource – a
resource is only renewable if it is managed sustainably. Some examples of resources
that are potentially renewable include biogas, groundwater, fish, forests, air,
soil water, and plants.
Perpetual resources are essentially inexhaustible and are generally solar in
origin. Some examples of resources that fit this description include: solar, wind,
tides, flowing water, and gravitational potential energy.
So, I would consider soil to be a potentially renewable resource.
Leslie Kanat, Ph.D.
Professor of Geology
Soil is being made all the time, but very slowly. So, if you lose soil on your
farm, it takes so long to be replaced that it is not really renewable as far as
humans are concerned.
Soil is lost by erosion. It can be blown away by the wind or washed away by water.
R. W. "Bob" Avakian
B.S. Earth Sciences; M.S. Geophysics
Oklahoma State Univ. Inst. of Technology
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Update: June 2012