Update: 21.11.2017

Soil carbon is the largest terrestrial pool of carbon.

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The International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) is the global union of soil scientists. The objectives of the IUSS are to promote all branches of soil science, and to support all soil scientists across the world in the pursuit of their activities. This website provides information for IUSS members and those interested in soil science.

Alex McBratney (Australia)

Alex McBratney (Australia)

Age: 55

Address: The University of Sydney , Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources , Australia

E-mail: A.McBratney@usyd.edu.au

Position: Pro-Dean, Professor of Soil Science

1. When did you decide to study soil science?

A long time ago, I was born very close to the Ordovician-Silurian boundary. In fact when I was 16. I was at high school sitting around deciding which course to do at University. We had a handbook from the Universities Central Council on Admissions listing all the courses for the 92 universities in the United Kingdom at that time.  Flicking through the book I found something called 'soil science' that somehow intrigued me. I had never heard of it before. I was interested in physics chemistry and geography, and as part of my rural background, my family had always taken part in ploughing competitions - they still do this soil art- so it seemed like a perfect fit to me. So I went off to Aberdeen University to study soil science.

2. Who has been your most influential teacher?

Perhaps the most difficult of the five questions. I've had a number of heroes who've influenced me greatly. My high school geography teacher James McLay who first taught me a little about soil and a lot about geomorphology, and with whom I still keep in touch. We're currently doing a little study on the soil of my home  area in Scotland . Of the soil scientists the most influential teachers have been  E.A. FitzPatrick from the University of Aberdeen who taught me to think outside the pedological box;  Richard Webster from Rothamsted who taught me the techniques for handling the natural variation of soil and to think quantitatively; and the late Alan Moore of  the CSIRO Division of Soils who  taught me to think deeply and philosophically. There are many others from Aberdeen , Rothamsted, CSIRO, here at the University of Sydney , and elsewhere whom I could mention. I can see the process of being deeply influenced by, and learning from, one's own students being more and more important in my thinking and development.

3. What do you find most exciting about soil science?

The future. Soil science is integral to the sustainable solution of many of the global issues of today;- food security, water security, energy security, the effect of climate change  and biodiversity.  Without soil science there will be no planet for humanity. We should recognise that we are at the beginning of a golden era and celebrate it by our growing aspirations and achievements.

4. How would you stimulate teenagers and young graduates to study soil science? 

As a teacher I'm always trying to get students to study soil science with variable degrees of success. They do respond positively to the global issues I mentioned above.  I think however we need to emphasise the vitality and diversity of soil and its crucial rule in the ecosystem and the development of human civilization. We need more people talking about soil out there in the real world.  We're beginning to see that with the soil carbon story.

5. How do you see the future of soil science?

I think I've answered this question before somewhere (in the Future of Soil Science) in addition to that statement I would simply like to add that we urgently need to understand soil carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon carbon coming carbon carbon.