By Annika Prom | Jan 29, 2020
Nutritional Sciences Program winter seminar: Food Systems in the age of Climate Change

What do you think of when you hear the word soil? When assistant professor Brittany Johnson asks students this question at the start of her Introductory Soils course, words like "dirty," "life," "brown," and "nutrients" come to mind. But soil is much more complex than that, Johnson says.

Johnson emphasized the many roles of soil in the recent lecture "From the Ground Up: Climate Impacts of and on Soils," part of the Nutritional Sciences winter seminar "Food Systems in the Age of Climate Change." This presentation aimed to change the dialogue around soils and discuss the effects of climate change on food production.

Soil is crucial to supporting plant growth, nutrient cycling, water, atmosphere, soil biota, and is needed for human use. A fun fact shared is that plants need 17 to 19 elements from the periodic table, and all of them come from either the soil or the air. Climate change impacts the wildland systems of the world in various ways. Wildfires have become more severe and frequent, there is increased water stress, and plants are more vulnerable to pests and diseases.

Lecturer Sarah Collier took the stage to explain that the key to supporting healthier systems is to build the amount of carbon contained in soil. Some examples are keeping soil surfaces vegetated, reducing soil disturbance, and practicing incorporation and respiration to help promote the flow of carbon. Though the road to managing healthy wildlands is a bit rocky. These areas are remote and unsafe, with little education and money to fuel their recovery.

Johnson and Collier presented the audience with action items to restore soil health: Support spatially complex landscapes, practice informed land management, and be inquisitive and creative. 

Johnson said she asks students again at the end of the Introductory Soils course to think of words that relate to soil. This time, they choose words like “alive,” “important, “life,” “complex,” and “dynamic” — ideas that this seminar brought to life.

The Food Systems in the Age of Climate Change seminar series for the Winter 2020 quarter is co-hosted by the Nutritional Sciences Program and Center for Health and the Global Environment. The seminar seminar explores climate impacts in the context of Pacific Northwest Food Systems.

Seminar sessions are every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. in Guggenheim Hall, Room 220. All UW faculty, students, and staff are welcome to attend.

View the full seminar schedule