Sustainable soil use and management: An interdisciplinary and systematic approach

Deyi Hou, Nanthi S. Bolan, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Mary B. Kirkham, David O'Connor

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

153 Citations (Scopus)


Soil is a key component of Earth's critical zone. It provides essential services for agricultural production, plant growth, animal habitation, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and environmental quality, which are crucial for achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, soil degradation has occurred in many places throughout the world due to factors such as soil pollution, erosion, salinization, and acidification. In order to achieve the SDGs by the target date of 2030, soils may need to be used and managed in a manner that is more sustainable than is currently practiced. Here we show that research in the field of sustainable soil use and management should prioritize the multifunctional value of soil health and address interdisciplinary linkages with major issues such as biodiversity and climate change. As soil is the largest terrestrial carbon pool, as well as a significant contributor of greenhouse gases, much progress can be made toward curtailing the climate crisis by sustainable soil management practices. One identified option is to increase soil organic carbon levels, especially with recalcitrant forms of carbon (e.g., biochar application). In general, soil health is primarily determined by the actions of the farming community. Therefore, information management and knowledge sharing are necessary to improve the sustainable behavior of practitioners and end-users. Scientists and policy makers are important actors in this social learning process, not only to disseminate evidence-based scientific knowledge, but also in generating new knowledge in close collaboration with farmers. While governmental funding for soil data collection has been generally decreasing, newly available 5G telecommunications, big data and machine learning based data collection and analytical tools are maturing. Interdisciplinary studies that incorporate such advances may lead to the formation of innovative sustainable soil use and management strategies that are aimed toward optimizing soil health and achieving the SDGs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number138961
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2020


  • Soil health
  • Soil pollution
  • Soil science
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Sustainable development goals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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