History of abandoned urban sites found stored in soil

Apr 05, 2012

Old houses and vacant lots may not look like much to the naked eye, but to some, the site is better than gold. Excavations over the years can create a challenge to study what's left behind and often appears as if dirt and debris ended up mixed in a blender then pressed by a giant trash compactor.

However, in Detroit, one scientist and geologist is finding some of the city's abandoned lots provide a surprising "natural laboratory" for studying certain processes involved in ; particularly the of rocky and mineral objects within the soil layers. Jeffrey Howard's analyzed soil in the heart of the Motor City since he first dug an experimental pit on the site of a demolished building a few blocks away from his office at Wayne State University. And Howard says what he's been finding ever since, continues to amaze him, leading to his newest research.

"With an urban soil, we know what 'time zero' is," says Howard. "We don't know that as well in nature." If he's working on a vacant lot where the building was demolished in 1969, for example, "that's when the soil started to form." Howard's learned he can further date the processes in his "natural laboratory" by digging at sites where a dated cornerstone or other historical record tells him exactly how long the processes have been taking place. He's also finding Detroit the perfect starting place, where urban soil is slowly revealing the city's story as a world leader from the through , to the now dramatic contraction of surplus houses, abandoned factories and crumbling landmarks.

The results map the passage of time, showing some of the old underground debris may be having a beneficial effect in certain polluted soils. And he's finding a mix of manipulated conditions. Howard says,"They didn't know that's what they were doing then, but scientifically, now we're able to see something that we otherwise wouldn't have seen. And that's huge."

Explore further: Pact with devil? California farmers use oil firms' water

More information: See the complete results from this study in the just released, online only publication, Soil Horizons, at: www.soils.org/publications/sh/articles/53/2/6

Related Stories

Rediscovering sound soil management

May 10, 2011

At the same time that demand for food is soaring along with the world's population, the soil's ability to sustain and enhance agricultural productivity is becoming increasingly diminished and unreliable.

Don't overlook urban soil

Jun 20, 2007

If you were looking for fertile soil, it’s doubtful you’d begin your search in most U.S. cities. After all, urban soils are often viewed as drastically disturbed soils with low fertility. However, new research by a team ...

It's not just dirt!

Nov 25, 2009

Soil is the linchpin of the environment, where atmosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere meet. Despite that, many students see soil as "just dirt" - a place to grow plants, but nothing more. Soil science educators are challenged ...

Recommended for you

Gimmicks and technology: California learns to save water

Jul 03, 2015

Billboards and TV commercials, living room visits, guess-your-water-use booths, and awards for water stinginess—a wealthy swath of Orange County that once had one of the worst records for water conservation ...

Cities, regions call for 'robust' world climate pact

Jul 03, 2015

Thousands of cities, provinces and states from around the world urged national governments on Thursday to deliver a "robust, binding, equitable and universal" planet-saving climate pact in December.

Will climate change put mussels off the menu?

Jul 03, 2015

Climate change models predict that sea temperatures will rise significantly, including in the tropics. In these areas, rainfall is also predicted to increase, reducing the salt concentration of the surface ...

As nations dither, cities pick up climate slack

Jul 02, 2015

Their national governments hamstrung by domestic politics, stretched budgets and diplomatic inertia, many cities and provinces have taken a leading role—driven by necessity—in efforts to arrest galloping ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.