Learning how to identify soils in the Falklands Islands

By iLaria Marengo

Soil is a natural, unique and multifunctional resource that provides and supports a range of ecosystem services, in the form of food and as a host for organisms and material that are important for human life. However, much we know about what we are standing on? How much are we aware of soils, their characteristics and properties? Can we use the soil in a more advantageous way for our activities without damaging them?

The Falklands Islands are an archipelago that spread across a bit more than 12,000 square kilometres and we know only approximately and generically about the soils within the islands. In order to start addressing this, a two week course in soil identification was funded as part of an EU BEST project, the Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Falklands – A climate change risk assessment (TEFRA), led by Dr Rebecca Upson and Prof Jim McAdam.

Rodney Burton, with 45 year of experience in soil survey, has travelled all the way south to train and enthuse representatives of Falklands Conservation (FC), Department of Agriculture (DOA), landowners and SAERI about soils. The aim of the course was to provide information and stimulus for the participants in understanding the basics of soil, its properties and processes, and how to apply that understanding to their everyday work and own specific needs.

The lack of a soil map is a noticeable and important gap in the baseline spatial information of the Falkland Islands. Hence, the main objective in learning about soils is to enable the participants to gather soil information (through description, interpretation and recording) to improve the first draft of the TEFRA project soil map. This map is an interpretation that Rodney Burton has produced based on the solid and superficial deposits geological maps.

 

The new skills acquired during the course are going to be applied to the identification and description of soil profiles for the main soil types derived from the TEFRA soil map. The idea is to do surveys at specific study areas chosen by Dr Stuart Smith, leader of the habitat restoration project at FC, add some opportunistic auger holes at farms where DOA is taking already soil samples for lab analyses and wherever leisure walks take iLaria Marengo in her attempt to walk each 1 km2 cell of the OS map.

The course was fascinating and enjoyable. It comprised of two days in the classroom, where Rodney gave a general introduction on soil genesis, classification, sampling, interpretation and a description of the soil survey field handbook. This was followed by a week spent in the field finding spots for the description and interpretation of soil profiles.

Each day in the field revealed something new. We went from some extreme conditions, such as snow and freezing strong winds, to a more “balmy” temperature of 8 degrees and absence of wind. We found that the soils are largely shallow, except in areas where peat accumulates. In Cape Pembroke we dug through almost 4 metres of peat but in the other locations we didn’t manage to dig more than 40 cm because the bottom (clay) was too hard.

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Interesting periglacial polygonal features were spotted in all the location and in Saladero ventifacts were scattered across some bare land. Both features thrilled an already enthusiastic Rodney and were evidence that the geomorphology of the Falkland Islands is extremely rich in fascinating and puzzling features which are worth further investigation.

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We would like to thank Rodney for the way he taught us soils, for his passion and the clarity of his explanations. Another thank is for the TEFRA project which made possible this course. We hope that as participants we can use the new skills efficiently and in a useful way.

 

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