Finding the oil in soil with light

A new study shows that it is now much easier to find and identify oil contaminates present in soil. Previously, samples had to be collected from a site, then transported to a laboratory, in order to glean useful information about the specific petroleum based contaminates present. Within this study, many different types of spectroscopy were tested and used on site to determine and identify these materials on location with some success. This process will be cost effective and much more accurate, as the materials will not have to be transported to independent laboratories for testing; reducing cost, as well as possible contamination.

In another study, it was shown that the quality of wetland soil can also be rapidly determined by this same process.
With the current issues that we are facing right now in the gulf, it seems that with new advances in light technology and spectroscopy, we can help determine the quality of wetland soils, as well as the impact that the current spill is having on them.

Information taken from the Journal of Environmental Quality and the American Society of Agronomy

Sacrifice one green for another

In a recent study that was done by Penn State University, it was shown that certain types of straw residue that is spread out over corn crops reduced the level of dangerous nitrates that leeched into main waterways. The downside of this is, that the actual crop of the corn that grew was also reduced by as much as 16%.
So what does this mean? In my opinion, it seems that in order to help out the environment, sometimes it means that we might have to take a loss in profit in order to do what is right.

In an age where we are trying to move into a more earth friendly direction in all aspects of our daily lives, just recycling more and getting fluorescent light bulbs might not be enough. Most of the time when we think of going green, it is usually regarding power consumption, and utilizing reusable materials. I think that we all need to broaden that view onto a larger scale. Is it possible that with studies like this that are beginning to emerge, we can start trying to push our government to create subsidies for agricultural farmers that take a loss of profit and crop yield in order to help reduce the leakage of dangerous chemicals into our waterways due to soil erosion?

This and many more useful articles found at found @ The American Society of Agronomy
For more information, visit

The Different Types of Soil Erosion

Sheet and rill erosion occurs on sloping land with little ground cover. When it rains water runs down the hill, and without plants to hold the soil in place, the flowing water washes the soil away. Sheet erosion is when the water removes even layers of soil. Rill erosion is when the water makes channels up to 30 cm deep.

Gully erosion is when water makes a deep channel that washes away soil when it rains. Each time it rains, the channels get deeper as more soil is removed. The soil can wash away into creeks and streams and block the water flow and discolour the water, or damage roads. The loss of topsoil reduces the amount of area available for farming.
Mass movement is when the erosion is helped by gravity, including landslides and avalanches. Mass movement not only removes a great deal of earth and rocks, it can destroy houses and farmland.

Wind erosion is when the wind lifts and removes topsoil. In dry areas in particular, soil that is not kept in place by plants is easily removed by the wind. Where crops have been grown repeatedly without giving the land a rest, the soil becomes less bound together and easily breaks down and is removed. Where animals have grazed too much or have trampled the earth hard, the plants are no longer holding the soil together, and it can be removed by the wind. The wind dumps the soil elsewhere, and can clog other farmland and roads.

Soil degradation is the term used to cover the damage that occurs to soil. Soil erosion is just one of those problems.

Source and More information available at:

The Slip

Sometimes the best way to get a handle on understanding a topic, such as Soil Erosion and Soil Quality, is to go to a higher level plane of thought and reflect upon it. For centuries poetry has served this purpose. I think the following poem deserves attention because with all the is happening in the world right now; in Haiti, in the hardwood forests of Argentina, to Portland's ivy overtaking Forest Park and the horrible oil spill off the Gulf Coast, this poem brings some sort of hope in all the catastrophes of man and nature.

The Slip- by Wendell Berry

The river takes the land, and leaves nothing.
Where the great slip gave way in the bank
and an acre disappeared, all human plans
dissolve. An awful clarification occurs
where a place was. Its memory breaks
from what is known now, begins to drift.
Where cattle grazed and trees stood, emptiness
widens the air for birdflight, wind, and rain.
As before the beginning, nothing is there.
Human wrong is in the cause, human
ruins in the effect- but no matter;
all will be lost, no matter the reason.
Nothing, having arrived, will stay.
The earth, even, is like a flower, so soon
passeth it away. And yet this nothing
is the seed of all- the clear eye
of Heaven, where all the worlds appear.
Where the imperfect has departed, the perfect
begins its struggle to return. The good gift
begins again its descent. The maker moves
in the unmade, stirring the water until
it clouds, dark beneath the surface,
stirring and darkening the soul until pain
perceives new possibility. There is nothing
to do but learn and wait, return to work
on what remains. Seed will sprout in the scar.
Though death is in the healing, it will heal.

Perhaps there is a prescription for healing, even in death. Endings can become beginnings. With the raging forest fire and charred remains comes new growth. Sometimes through struggle we unite for a common good that benefits our community and our world. You can get involved in your own community, right where you are. Please look at our calendar of events and choose one. This weekend will be nice weather, so why not get out and spend an hour volunteering to pull invasive ivy from trees in a local area park, or plant your own garden, grow your own vegetables or plant a tree. Your participation makes a difference, and if we all do a small part that equals a large whole. Thank you for reading EcoMerge blog and be sure to visit our website.

Prevent Erosion On Your Property

All property owners should take precautions to help prevent erosion on their property. The type of erosion prevention practices you take on your property can vary by the shape and slope of your property. Stabilizing slopes is very important in erosion prevention. Property with a moderate slop can be benefited by planting plants and trees or by mulching. Steeper slopes can also benefit from planting plants, but may require special care when doing so. The use of an erosion control blanket can help hold slopes in place until the plants have time to plant their roots and become stable. Very steep slopes may need the help of retaining walls or the slope may need to be converted into terraces. The best way to control erosion is always to prevent it before it starts, so its important that everyone helps prevent erosion by preventing it on their own property.

For more info:

Erosion Prevention in Construction

When a new construction site is proposed, a survey of water runoff and erosion prevention is almost universally required. What does this mean? Who do we contact? What's the cost of this type of survey?

First, what does erosion control even mean in the context of new construction? The City of Portland defines it this way:

Erosion and Sediment Control. Erosion control is the process of preventing loosened soil from migrating off the development site, into a storm drain or into a water body.
So, what construction activities would cause the creation of loosened soil? Almost every aspect of building construction destroys and eliminates the natural adhesion of soil crusts and biota that constitute the living soil. Trucks dig ruts into the earth, machines dig and eliminate top soil and the final product sits on top of and encases the earth in cement. The construction process exposes unprotected soil to the elements and creates large amount of loose earth that can easily be blown away by the wind or washed away by water.

The eroded soil doesn't just disappear however. It travels in the air and settles in low areas as dust. If it was top soil, it is permanently displaced. Soil washed away by rain or runoff settles into our sewer systems, rivers and lakes. This leads to clogs, flooding and poor water quality down stream of the source.

To find more information in the City of Portland regarding contacts and cost of certification, one should contact:

Responsible Bureau Section:
Development Services Center
PO Box 8120
Portland, OR 97207-8120

Site Development
PO Box 8120
Portland, OR 97207-8120

National Trail Day: June 5th, 2010

American Hiking Society's signature trail awareness program, National Trails Day® (NTD), inspires the public and trail enthusiasts nationwide to seek out their favorite trails to discover, learn about, and celebrate trails while participating in educational exhibits, trail dedications, gear demonstrations, instructional workshops and trail work projects.

NTD also provides an opportunity to thank volunteers, land managing agencies, and outdoor-minded businesses for their support in developing and maintaining trails. Click here for more information

Here in Portland, you can join the Forest Park Conservancy and REI for National Trails Day, one of their largest and most popular volunteer events of the year. We will spend the morning doing some trail maintenance and improvement projects along the Wildwood Trail. No previous experience required. REI will have refreshments and a few other surprises on hand for volunteers. The Forest Park Conservancy will provide all tools and materials.

In general, these volunteer events take place on the third Saturday of each month - and they also have volunteer opportunities each Thursday morning. If you aren't already on their stewardship email lists, drop us a quick email at

and let them know which list (Saturday, Thursday, or both) you would like to be added to.

Man Made Failures: Preparation and Maintenance

The more recent dramatic incidents are good studies in over development, poor understanding of water as it flows through the earth and failures to spend the appropriate resources on maintenance and upkeep. These failures underscore the lack of proper education into the nature of water based erosion.

What's the big deal about water based erosion?
Water is crafty, sneaky and never sleeps. A small drip changes to a torrent in the blink of an eye. A good example can be seen in the 2008 hillside collapse on a south west Portland, Oregon hillside.

Early in October of 2008, the collapse of a hillside led to the condemning of six houses and the destruction of a neighbourhood. The event happened so quickly that the first house to fall came completely off of its foundation and started sliding down the hill into the next house. Not unlike a set of dominoes, they all fell down.

Comments from residents at the bottom of the hill seem to indicate that there was water running down their driveways the day before. While not uncommon in Portland, it was a clear day. This should have raised one or two flags in the minds of the residents of this area. Awareness is key as the effects of water based erosion can be slow or hidden from view.

In the end analysis, the slide appears to have been caused by high rain, steep slopes and a new sprinkler system that may have been improperly installed or damaged. The indicators were present though, higher water consumption and running water should have been noted by the home owners in the neighbourhood.

Got Produce?

When most of us want some form of produce we simply go to our local Super Market's produce department. Imagine that tomorrow you go to your local Super Market's produce department with your shopping list. You are looking for olives walnuts, almonds, kiwifruit, figs, dates, artichokes, persimmons, prunes, and pistachios. Unfortunately, you find the Super Market is completely out of each item on your list. Across the empty produce bins is a sign the reads," Due to the loss of our major supplier we can not longer supply olives walnuts, almonds, kiwifruit, figs, dates, artichokes, persimmons, prunes, and pistachios. We are sorry for the inconvenience." You ask the Produce Manager which supplier was lost and the answer is "California".
Yes, California. For many California is viewed as sunny beaches and Hollywood types. But it is also the home of the Central Valley a prime agricultural area. The Central Valley of California is not very large when compared to other agricultural areas. It is just 400 miles long and 50 miles wide. Yet this area is very productive. In fact over 90% of the world's olives walnuts, almonds, kiwifruit, figs, dates, artichokes, persimmons, prunes, and pistachios are grown in the Central Valley. In addition it accounts for over 80 % of all the apricots, grapes, and avocados grown in the United States.
However there is one fact about California's Central Valley that must not be forgotten. It is a desert! How do you put an agricultural area in a desert? By relying on water from outside sources. These sources are extremely unstable due to drought and political issues.
Currently due to both drought and political issues California's Central Valley is facing the impact of soil erosion and the related land degradation. This is causing the drying out of topsoil and effective loss of soil structure and aggregation. Due to this the fertile topsoil is being removed by wind and by the little rain that does occur. If this trend continues, California Central Valley will no longer be able to supply olives walnuts, almonds, kiwifruit, figs, dates, artichokes, persimmons, prunes, and pistachios. This will mean that either your local Super Market's produce department will not be able to offer these types of produce, or if they do, you may not be able to afford to buy them.
You can help keep the supply of produce coming to your local Super Market at reasonable prices by taking action.

For more information on what you can do contact:

California State Water Resources Control Board
Mailing Address
State Water Resources Control Board
P.O. Box 100
Sacramento, CA 95812-0100
or at :

You should also contact the California Farm Bureau Federation to get more information on the Central Valley of California's agriculture and the impact of drought and soil erosion.


California Farm Bureau Federation
2300 River Plaza Drive
Sacramento, CA 95833
or at:

What Affects Soil Biota and How to Manage it

Soil biota multiply rapidly when organic material, roots, and plant litter, their food source, are available and the soil is moist and warm. Seasonal patterns of biological activity coincide with plant growth stages, litter fall, and root die-off. To be active, bacteria require films of water in soil pores, whereas fungi can function in drier conditions. When the soil is too dry, bacteria and fungi become less active or temporarily shut down, protozoa form dormant cysts, and the number of most other organisms declines. When the soil is saturated and anaerobic, the number of denitrifying bacteria increases. Organisms affect each other through predation and competition for food and space. Small soil pores can restrict the movement of large soil organisms. Different types of vegetation produce different types of litter and plant residue and thus provide different food sources for soil biota. Changes in the vegetation or the pattern of plant distribution affect the soil organisms.

Grazing.—Proper management of the plant community is the best strategy for maintaining the benefits of the soil food web. Plant production and the supply of organic matter can be maintained or enhanced by timely grazing, the proper frequency of grazing, and control of the amount of vegetation removed. If the plant community is overgrazed, a reduction in the amount of surface plant material and roots will result in less food for soil organisms. As biological activity decreases, a downward spiral of the important functions of soil organisms results in a lower content of organic matter and impedes nutrient cycling, water infiltration, and water storage. Heavy grazing also can reduce the abundance of nitrogen-fixing plants, causing a decrease in the supply of nitrogen for the entire plant community.

Erosion.—Erosion removes or redistributes the surface layer of the soil, the layer with the greatest concentration of soil organisms, organic matter, and plant nutrients. Runoff and wind erosion redistribute litter from one area of rangeland to a surrounding area. The loss of organic matter reduces the activity of soil biota in the areas from which the litter has been removed.

Compaction by grazing animals and vehicles.—Soil compaction reduces the larger pores and pathways, thus reducing the amount of habitat for nematodes and the larger soil organisms. Compaction can also cause the soil to become anaerobic, increasing losses of nitrogen to the atmosphere.

Fire and pest control.—Fire can kill some soil organisms and reduce their food source while also increasing the availability of some nutrients. Pesticides that kill above-ground insects can also kill beneficial soil insects. Herbicides and foliar insecticides applied at recommended rates have a smaller impact on soil organisms. Fungicides and fumigants have a much greater impact on the soil organisms.


What happened once, can and will happen again

Those of you born after WWII might not remember a time in American history where the effects of soil erosion were actualy seen on a massive scale. The time period I am refering to was the dust bowl which lasted between 1930-1936. The phenomenon was a direct result of both drought coupled with decades of farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques used to prevent soil erosion. The area most effected was the great plains region where virgin top soil had been too deeply plowed which killed the natural grasses that kept the soil in place and trapped moisture during droughts and high wind seasons.

This misuse of land and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people during the 1930's forced the government to act. The result was the Soil Conservation and Allotment Act of 1936. This act allowed the federal government to pay farmers to reduce production in order to conserve soil but at the same time accomplish minor goals. The act also gave directives to farmers on ways to conserve and rejuvenate soil.

Now a days, we are much more aware of soil conservation, but it still occures in other parts of the world. Strip mining and deforestation causes soil erosion on a massive level all over the world. We need to wake up and learn from the mistakes of the past, this is the only Earth we get, and when its gone....its gone.

If you want to help increase the awareness of soil erosion, participation and creation of more such blogs as these are crucial. Get involved in your local communities, and for those of you who live in farming communities, you have a larger responsibility.

What are soil biota and what do they do?

Soil biota, the biologically active powerhouse of soil, include an incredible diversity of organisms. Tons of soil biota, including micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, and algae) and soil “animals” (protozoa, nematodes, mites, springtails, spiders, insects, and earthworms), can live in an acre of soil and are more diverse than the community of plants and animals above ground. Soil biota are concentrated in plant litter, the upper few inches of soil, and along roots. Soil organisms interact with one another, with plant roots, and with their environment, forming the soil food web.

As soil organisms consume organic matter and each other, nutrients and energy are exchanged through the food web and are made available to plants. Each soil organism plays a role in the decomposition of plant residue, dead roots, and animal remains. The larger soil organisms, such as millipedes and earthworms, shred dead leaves and residue, mix them with the soil, and make organic material more accessible to immobile bacteria. Earthworms can completely mix the top 6 inches of a humid grassland soil in 10 to 20 years. Ants and termites mix and tunnel through soils in areas of arid and semiarid rangeland.

Predators in the soil food web include scorpions, centipedes, spiders, mites, some ants, insects, and beetles. They control the population of soil biota. The smaller organisms, including mites, springtails, nematodes, and one-celled protozoa, graze on bacteria and fungi. Other organisms feed on dead roots, shredded residue, and the fecal by-products of the larger organisms. The smallest soil organisms, microscopic bacteria and fungi, make up the bulk of the biota in the soil. They finish the process of decomposition by breaking down the remaining material and storing its energy and nutrients in their cells. Algae and fungi are the first organisms to colonize rock and form “new soil” by releasing substances that disintegrate rock.

Visit the Ecomerge website to learn more about organic gardening soil and how to preserve soil at home.


Importance of Plants in Preventing Soil Erosion

Wind and water are the main agents of soil erosion. The amount of soil they can carry away is influenced by two related factors:

• Speed - the faster either moves, the more soil it can erode;
• Plant cover - plants protect the soil and in their absence wind and water can do much more damage.

Plants provide protective cover on the land and prevent soil erosion for the following reasons:

• Plants slow down water as it flows over the land (runoff) and this allows much of the rain to soak into the ground;
• Plant roots hold the soil in position and prevent it from being washed away;
• Plants break the impact of a raindrop before it hits the soil, thus reducing its ability to erode;
• Plants in wetlands and on the banks of rivers are of particular importance as they slow down the flow of the water and their roots bind the soil, thus preventing erosion.

The loss of protective vegetation makes soil vulnerable to being swept away by wind and water. In addition, over-cultivation and compaction cause the soil to lose its structure and cohesion and it becomes more easily eroded. Erosion will remove the top-soil first. Once this nutrient-rich layer of soil is gone, few plants will grow in the soil again. Without soil and plants the land becomes desert-like and unable to support life.

This is a short description of the cycle between the loss of living plant root and soil erosion, and erosion to prevention of ability to generate new roots:
The plant grows as it feeds from the nutrients available in the soil; after the plant dies it actually replenishes the soil. The new seed grows into a new root and the same cycle starts again, and the soil continues to get better.
As for the other side of the story, the plant dies and nourishes the soil, but the erosion washes away the nutrient rich soil. The exposed rock mud or sand fails to support the next generation of the plant. In other words, the next plant does not grow which leads for the sun to superheat the soil so it breaks and cracks. Next, the cracked soil accelerates erosion which means that no further plant life can grow in this erosion. The erosion continues to expand, eating the edges of surrounding plant life.

Further information at:
Photo link:

Preventing Erosion During Construction

The effects of construction can often lead to soil erosion. There are several construction practices that can help prevent soil erosion. The most effective way to limit the effects of erosion during construction is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Some of the practices to help prevent soil erosion from occurring include:
  • - Saving vegetation to minimize bare soil
  • - Confine vehicle and foot traffic to minimize ground disturbance
  • - Avoid major construction immediately adjacent to streambanks and shorelines
  • - Try to avoid working in winter or rainy seasons
  • - Revegetate bare soil as soon as possible
  • - Regular inspections during construction to identify problems
The effects of construction can cause significant amounts of erosion, especially during the rainy season. So it is important that these practices are used when construction is being performed so that erosion can be prevented.


Soil Crust Management Strategies

The development of objectives relative to soil crusts is an important part of rangeland management. Biological crusts protect the soil from water erosion and wind erosion. Physical crusts can protect soils from wind erosion as effectively as biological crusts, except on very coarse textured soils. In the more humid areas, it generally is desirable to break up physical crusts and thus improve seedling emergence and plant establishment; however, desirable biological crusts can be destroyed when the physical crusts are broken. Adequate organic matter, seeds of desirable species, and a period of rest are needed for successful establishment of plants after crusts are broken.

Recovery of biological crusts may take decades to hundreds of years. Therefore, preventing degradation by minimizing disturbance is important. Biological crusts that are in areas of low rainfall, are on coarse textured soils with low stability, and are in areas with a large amount of bare ground are most susceptible to frequent disturbances and have the longest recovery times. Biological crusts of all types are least susceptible to disturbance when the soil is frozen or is covered with snow. Biological crusts on sandy soils are less susceptible to disturbance when the soils are wet or moist, and the ones on clayey soils are less susceptible when the soils are dry. Trampling or grazing when the soil surface is very wet or ponded should be avoided because it can displace and bury the biological crust.

The following management strategies apply to land used for grazing, wildlife habitat, or recreation:

• Maintain the optimum amount of live vegetation, litter, and biological crust relative to the site potential in order to maintain the content of organic matter and soil structure and control erosion.

• In humid areas improve soil structure and plant establishment by incorporating organic matter into the soil while breaking up a physical crust.

• Defer grazing and recreational use during periods when biological crusts are most susceptible to physical disturbances.

• Use prescribed burning according to the needs of each site to prevent fuel buildup that can produce hot fires followed by severe erosion.

• Control the establishment and spread of invasive annual plants that can carry fire.


Methods of preventing Soil Erosion

There are several methods to prevent soil Erosion. Due to the mass issue of the soil erosion we as a community should implement one or more of these methods to live in a safe environment. The first method is planting vegetation which is planting flowers, trees crops over the affected soil. Matting also is another method that will prevent soil erosion which will be placed on the surface of the affect soil. These two methods are very easy to implement and do not cost much money for individuals. These methods can be implemented by anyone who is concern about the environment and community in which he or she lives. Therefore, let safe our planet and environment by not only solving the issue of soil erosion but also making our community more beautiful by planting flowers that would prevent this issue.

Huge Sinkhole = Scary!

These images are from of a recent sinkhole that opened up in Guatemala City after a huge storm.

While officials haven't determined the definite cause, the raging rivers have been sweeping soil away and softening existing soil. While most of what we write about on this site is of how to prevent erosion and what is being done to help, this is a scary reminder that the problem of soil erosion is a real.

While some sinkholes can't be prevented, there are potential steps you can take to lessen the chance of a sinkhole. Adding storm drains, storm pipes, and knowing about what the topography looks like in your area are all ways you can help prevent a sinkhole from forming on your property.

Our thoughts are out to the people of Guatemala City and we hope the storm passes soon so the recovery efforts can start.

Check out more pictures at: