Soils are critical to feeding the world as our population grows to over 9 billion people. Existing knowledge of dynamic changes in the Earth’s soils is hampered by lack of observation capabilities. Current state of the art is to bury expensive instrumentation then later remove it or to collect soil core samples and analyze variables in the lab. This is expensive and provides limited or static information. Physical, chemical, and biological models, which fill in the measurement gaps, are based on limited measurements of variables and assumptions that are not reliable across the spatially variable landscape. An example is the use of lab-measured total soil C, where the most widely used soil C model was developed nearly 30 years ago; advances are not possible unless there is a congruence between model and measurement capabilities. The challenge is to develop the next generation models and measurement methods to enable considerable advances in our capabilities to predict key soil variables for societal benefits. Although some advances have been made, these have been piecemeal and more concerted efforts are critical. To develop the next generations of models new observation systems are essential to advance our understanding and management of soil, which is a critical natural resource.
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