Winter Soils-Still Alive

Despite the frigid temperatures in northern climates, the soil in your yard is still teeming with life. The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) January 15 Soils Matter blog post explains that many microbes and other soil-dwelling life are still active in winter.

Mary Tiedeman, a soil scientist, says, “soil is essential to life underground. Soil protects plant roots, animals, and microbes from freezing in the winter. As air temperatures drop below 320F (00C), water within the top layers of the soil will eventually freeze. This is commonly known as the frost layer.”

Organic matter layer of dead and decomposing leaves, etc. (30 cm = 12 inches) above Alaskan “permafrost” provides insulation throughout the colder months, as well as nutrients for plant life during growing season. Photo: Mary Tiedeman.“A great number of soil animals have evolved to withstand temperatures below freezing. At least five frog species in North America make their own natural antifreeze. This allows them to become completely frozen for long times without suffering any serious damage to the structures of their cells.”

“Even soil microbes – bacteria and fungi that live in the soil year round – can be active in winter months. Studies in Antarctica show microbial life in permanently frozen ground (permafrost). Other animals burrow deeper into the soil.”

To read the entire blog post, visit http://soilsmatter.wordpress.com.

Follow SSSA on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SSSA.soils, Twitter at SSSA_Soils. SSSA has soils information on www.soils.org/discover-soils, for teachers at www.soils4teachers.org, and for students through 12th grade, www.soils4kids.org.