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Our soils

Cryosols cover approximately 18 x 106 km2, or about 13% of the Earth's land surface. They occur in the permafrost zones in both the Northern Hemisphere and Antarctica as well as in some alpine regions. Cryosols are of global concern since it is predicted that both Polar Regions will experience a significant increase in average temperature. The primary concern, however, is the impact that global warming will have on these perennially frozen soils and on the large amounts of ice and organic carbon stored in them. The resulting changes could lead to a major re-shaping of the northern landscape, degradation of water quality and the release of large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. These changes could severely affect living organisms (including human life), which are now more or less in equilibrium with local edaphic and climatic conditions.

In the coming decades research should focus on providing the information needed both to make predictions about these changes and to understand them. Such research should include: carbon dynamics, storage and fluxes; the effect of cryogenic processes on soil genesis; the effect of the melting of permafrost on physical and chemical properties of these soils; the development of reliable soil databases to enhance the classification, modeling and wise utilization of these soils; soil mapping in extensively-used areas and in areas lacking such mapping, and; establishment of long-term global monitoring networks to collect data on the impact of global change on such properties as soil temperature and soil moisture.

This research should be carried out through the international cooperation of scientists in order to provide greater efficiency as well as better dissemination of data and knowledge.