Tuesday’s Soil Ecosystem Service – Provision of raw materials

Outputs: Sand, gravel, clay, peat and rarely minerals.

Definition: Soil is a source of raw materials used for the creation of new materials or a variety of activities. The definition excludes soil biomass, soil organic matter, gasses and liquids from the soil. Raw materials are usually the substances that constitute the soil horizons themselves. Clay is a result of soil formation (argilo-synthesis), while peat is an organic (top) soil, formed in special climatic and relief circumstances. Sand and gravel deposits accumulate due to geological processes (such as fluvial-glacial activities) and frequently constitute the lower soil horizons in shallow soil profiles.

Exploitation: Raw materials are mainly used for construction: clay is used for brick production; roof and ceramic tiles; sand and gravel are used for concrete. Peat (nowadays frequently protected and exploited for heating in the past) is used as soil amendment or as a substrate for plant growth.

Relevant effects, processes and controlling soil properties: Raw materials extracted from the soil are a result of soil formation and geological processes that occurred thousands of years before our time. Instead of soil processes that affect this service, the provision of raw materials itself fatefully affects soil processes.

Relations to the entire ecosystem: In general, the provision of raw materials is destructive to soils. A large number of soil ecosystem functions are terminated, therefore not provided to the ecosystems and thus affecting them in a variety of ways (no carbon sequestration, very limited waster filtering, no neutralization and buffering capacities, no food and fibre provision, etc.).

Relations to other services: Areas, where raw materials are extracted from the soil, cannot provide other soil ecosystem services, i.e. carbon sequestration, neutralization and buffering capacities, food and fibre provision, biodiversity, etc., or the extent of provision is very limited (waste filtering, buffering and purification, low recreational services etc.)

Land use impacts: Extraction of raw materials (i.e. gravel extraction) causes land degradation and also changes cultural and natural landscapes, and therefore requires extraction sites – remediation activities.

Climate change impacts: Provision of raw materials limits the function of other soil ecosystem services involved in climate change processes (carbon sequestration) or services that contribute to climate change effect (water retention, microclimate cooling effect, etc.)

Demand aspects: Growing world population generates infrastructure, industry, and housing area expansion. Therefore the demand for construction materials is growing in developing and developed countries.

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