Soil: The Foundation of Life on Our Planet

How do soils affect your project? They balance ecosystems, buffer against environmental stressors, and purify water.


2015 is the International Year of Soils, declared by the Global Soil Partnership at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. RETTEW’s team of Soil Scientists are involved in spreading awareness and promoting sustainability of soils, one of Earth’s most valuable yet finite natural resources.

Since soil is all around us, we often take its role in our life for granted. However, soils are critical to maintaining balance in ecosystems, buffering against environmental stressors, and providing a media for plants and microbes to grow. Soils play an important part in many of your projects. Because of this, a firm understanding of the science of soils is important and can help you meet project goals and budgets, avoid costly fines, and protect the environment.

Here are some of the ways we interact with soils in our clients’ projects: wetland delineations, stormwater management, on-site septic systems, landslides, contaminated sites, and construction sustainability.

Soils As a Purifier

In the natural environment, soils act as water purifiers. The microbes in soil can also process and remove unwanted materials in water. Many wastewater treatment plants we depend on every day use soils in their treatment process.

Soils As Protection to the Environment

When soil is saturated, microbes interact with certain elements in soil, such as iron, to create unique color patterns. These patterns help scientists identify how saturated a soil gets throughout the year, even when current conditions are dry. These visuals also help scientists identify and protect wetland areas, as well as assist in septic and stormwater evaluations.

Soils As the Foundation of Entire Ecosystems

Soils function similarly to a chemistry lab – many chemical reactions occur, keeping a delicate balance that affects the many plants, animals, and water in and around the soil. If a contaminant is introduced, soil scientists can identify it by the lack of ecosystem balance and can help determine a remediation strategy, keeping the environment we live in and around our many development projects thriving.

Soils As a Support to Our Infrastructure

Soils must be physically and chemically capable of supporting open space, buildings, or natural settings. Scientists can help determine the composition of soils to provide project-specific recommendations, ensuring infrastructure is designed and constructed appropriately.

How Soils Can Affect Your Project

These functions of soil, including its role in purifying water, protecting the environment, and the delicate balance required for soils to continue to support our world, can significantly affect a project before, during, and after completion. For example, if soils are not considered early in a project and the right investigations completed, you may end up needing:

  • Expensive redesign of site plans because of unknown soil limitations
  • To reseed and mulch previously restored areas that failed adequate plant cover
  • Expensive irrigation and nutrient inputs for a poorly developed root system
  • Herbicides to combat invasive or problematic plant species
  • Additional budget to cover increased construction costs from change orders when deleterious soil conditions are discovered during construction

How can we make sure we’re considering soils in our projects?

  • Think about soils at the planning stage of a project, not when they become a problem
  • Protect or add organic matter
  • Be mindful of compaction
    • Work the soil when it is drier
    • Use the proper equipment that limits the PSI exerted through the wheels/tracks of the machine
    • Rip or chisel plow a site after final grading to break up any compaction
    • Plan your construction steps in a manner that limits the number of times you need to move over the soil
  • Complete an agronomic soil test – For around $10 most states have testing labs that provide nutrient and pH report