The U.S. Geological Survey has released a set of maps depicting the distribution of selected chemical elements and minerals in soils across the country.
Understanding the composition of soil is important for a variety of reasons. Specialists in agriculture and food safety find soil data useful because soil is the source of most biologically active trace elements that reach humans through the food chain.
Public health specialists need to understand soil pathways for human exposure to potentially toxic elements. Regulators and resource managers use soil data to identify contamination, assess the risks to ecosystems and human health from contamination, and to set remediation goals.
The maps and data sets serve as a starting point for future research in a variety of fields.
Soils play a key role for the Earth's life support system in a number of ways such as determining human health and ecosystem integrity. They are required for supporting food production and needed for water storage and groundwater recharge. Soils are critical in the natural cycling of carbon and essential nutrients.
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"These data and maps are not designed to provide detailed soil information about what might be in your backyard," explained Dave Smith, the USGS scientist who led the project. "Rather they put your backyard into a national context so you can know the general range of element concentrations that are in soils from your part of the country."
National patterns, composition
This USGS project delineates national-scale patterns and variations in elemental composition for soils. This new study provides a more complete understanding of natural variability for the nation's soils than has ever been available.
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Higher lead levels appear in the Northeast.