Two planet Earths will be needed to sustain humans at current rates, scientists warn

Experts speaking at the launch of the region’s first soil museum, in Dubai, to help raise awareness of its sustainable use.

Prof Abdulrahman Alsharhan, ICBA chairman, centre, and Dr Ismahan Elouafi, ICBA director general, at the opening of the Emirates Soil Museum in Dubai on Thursday. Duncan Chard for The National
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // Two planet Earths will be needed by 2050 if human beings continue to exploit natural resources at current rates, scientists said on Thursday.

With this year’s annual Earth resources consumed in full by August 8 and a population expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the UAE has launched the region’s first soil museum, in Dubai, to help raise awareness about its sustainable use.

“Unfortunately, soil doesn’t get as much attention as other natural resources because we take it for granted,” said Dr Ismahane Elouafi, director general at the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, which launched the Emirates Soil Museum in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.

“A museum on soil is important for people to understand this Earth. The museum can help children to get the right picture, understand its complexity and appreciate the diversity.

“There are millions of microorganisms within the soil and, hopefully, through awareness we can make better sustainable use of it and conservation for future generations.”

This year marks the United Nations’ year of the soil but as a result of its degradation and a world population estimated to grow to 9.6 billion by 2050, more food will need to be produced.

“The arability and health of the land is an obstacle,” she said. “It takes 1,000 years to develop 15 centimetres of the topsoil, which has the most organic material and microflora. Most crops or pulses we grow use only that top 15cm.”

Soil provides food, fuel, fibre and feed production, all of which are critical for life on Earth. Soil also plays an important role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions, with the largest store of terrestrial carbon located in it.

The preservation of soil is said to potentially contribute to climate change mitigation.

“We must study the effect of the changes in the pressure that’s being exercised on the soil,” said Dr Henda Al Mahmoudi, a plant biologist at ICBA.

“If we continue on the same path, we will eventually need two planet Earths by 2050. And with this year’s annual Earth resources consumed in full by August 8, this complicates matters and makes it more difficult to provide for future generations.”

The focus of the Dh1.65 million museum is the role of soil in the environment, agriculture and food security, as well as the types found in the UAE.

“Soil is very precious and it fulfils multiple functions in the ecosystem,” she said. “The most important one is to ensure nutrition. However, the soil is continuously depleted and to ensure sustainable consumption, we have to achieve proper understanding of soil specifications.”

The museum contains overground and underground exhibits, soil information and details about its role in water infiltration through interactive displays.

Simulators allow visitors to see the role of soil in natural processes, such as the development of different types of sand dunes.

"The project has been going on for three years with the centre, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change," Dr Elouafi said. "National soil mapping was completed and the first discovery of anhydrite soil in the UAE was internationally recognised and included in the 12th US Keys to Soil Taxonomy in 2014."

Mapping was performed in four phases over 10 years, starting in 2002 with the coastal soil in Abu Dhabi. Two years later, it moved to Dubai, followed by the Northern Emirates from 2006 to 2009.

The museum has six themes and a library collection of soil publications and soil atlases from the GCC.

“Through modern technologies in education, it will be a treasured soil resource for school and university students, researchers and environmental scientists in the country and abroad,” said Mohammed Al Suwaidi, the fund’s director general. “It will become an invaluable national institution, an educational instrument for the UAE and a pivotal hub to increase soil public awareness.”

Emirates Soil Museum is at ICBA’s premises in Academic City, Dubai, and is free to enter.