10/05/2012

The Editor's Pick | The Geological Era ı The Eighth Approximation

Soils and cities also have bodies that are made up of assemblages 
of things that are not classified within biological systems, 
although it is resist objectifying them according to our anthropocentric archetypes.
They are not the equivalent of biological objects but they possess distinctive materialities.
At first glance the living qualities of soils and cities may be
attributed to the creatures that inhabit them but on further
reflection, their character is shaped by the continuous, combined actions of
an entanglement of a much more diverse set of actants, which leave
material traces of these relationships.

A research, discovered this summer, is that of Seth Denizen, a landscape architecture graduate student of the University of Virginia which research focuses on the design of taxonomies for the mapping and historical analysis of urban soil. I am not a specialist in geology but I find his research very informative to analyzing effects of changes on the environment. As half of the world's population will be living in urban areas by 2025, soils also are evolving, being affected by human activities. Many call this the Anthropocene, or the geological era. Soils are very great indicators for characterizing this shift. As known, urban and natural soils are increasing significance in an era with accelerating urbanization and population expansion.
In the latest issue of this excellent online publication Organs Everywhere, Denizen discusses urban soils in the anthropocenic era with Scapegoat's founding editor Etienne Turpin (Note that Seth Denizen will discuss the asymptotic curve of production — among others — in the Anthropocene and its aesthetic implications in an essay titled Aesthetics of the Anthropocene to be published in Scapegoat: Architecture| Landscape| Political Economy, Vol. 05 — Excess. The volume is announced for July 2013).

Suggested Articles
Etienne Turpin | Stratophysical Approximations: A Conversation with Seth Denizen On the Urban Soils of The Anthropocene || Organs Everywhere, issue 04 ı Material Shifts, 2012*.
Rachel Armstrong | Soft Cities || Organs Everywhere, issue 04 ı Material Shifts, 2012*.
Phillip J. Craul | Urban Soils.

Defining of urban soil
The video below, titled Power of Ten: Eight Approximation, is part of his research on taxonomies for the mapping and historical analysis of urban soil. Urban soil, as Seth Denizen puts it, is "the result of a process of deposition." [Etienne Turpin and Seth Denizen, Organs Everywhere, 2012] A definition of urban soil is proposed by Phillip J. Craul, a specialist of agronomy, landscape architecture and soil science:
Angularity Diagram ı Urban Soil Taxonomy in the Anthropocene | ©Seth Denizen


Urban soils are created by the process of urbanization and therefore cannot be separated from its geographic bounds. Highly disturbed land and the associated soil material does occur outside of urbanized areas, and it has similar characteristics to those found in urban areas, but the major focus here are those soils of urban environment. Human activity, by modification of the natural soilscape, is the predominant active agent. This is in contrast to the natural agents of wind, water, ice, gravity and heat that are the active agents in the placement of parent material within which the resultant soil-forming processes occur in the natural environment. Urbanization also contributes unique amendments and contaminants to the urban soil. [ Phillip J. Craul, Urban Soils]
For Craul, citing and modifying J. G. Bockheim (Nature and Properties of Highly Disturbed Urban Soils, 1974)'s definition of urban soil, urban soil means "soil material having a nonagricultural, man-made surface layer more than 50-cm thick, that has been produced by mixing, filling, or contamination of land surfaces in urban and suburban areas." The outcome is anthropogenic. 

Suggested book
Andreas Lehmann and Karl Stahr | Nature and Significance of Anthropogenic Urban Soils | Volume 7, Number 4, 2007

Research on Urban soils helps understand evolution of the planet and consequences of human activities as main factors of changes. These changes are structurally, climatic and programmatic.
Australian Urban Soil Taxonomy | © Seth Denizen

Our living soils age as a consequence of natural causes such as changes in the climate but increasingly this is also the result of artificial and biological factors, such as over-grazing and deforestation. Ultimately, soils die and when they do — they are gone forever. These acts of wanton destruction are due to our rapid expansion, technological naiveté and, as Allan Savory notes, our universal tendency to simplify the complex processes of ecosystems in agricultural management practices. In these last milliseconds of evolutionary time we have globally acted upon our abstractions of the at an exponential pace and in doing so we have disrupted these ecosystems. It is impossible to say whether we still have time to turn this virulent legacy around, as ecologies are complex, brittle and as fragile as they are resilient. [Rachel Armstrong | Soft Cities || in Organs Everywhere, issue 04, 2012] 

Classification of soils
Soil classification Systems have been created to populate soil data and to offer scientists and resource managers with information on the nature of soil at local contexts. The Seventh Approximation Soil Classification System introduced in 1960 by USDA has six level of classifications: orders, suborders, great groups, subgroups, families, and series. The USDA's Soil Classification System, then, is based  on soil morphology.
Coarse fragments Estimate | © Seth Denizen
Particle Size Anthropocene Drawing | © Seth Denizen


[I]f you are wondering about history you have to realize that the USDA is approaching this from another angle. Once you have the morphological description, they believe you will be able to see in that description the historical reality. History is not exactly given up — trends and patterns in soil classification certainly require genetic explanations, so they are not throwing out the genetic — but the only taxonomic features under consideration for the Seventh Approximation are morphological.
Historical Development of Taxonomy System | © Seth Denizen

The difference between the Seventh Approximation and Denizen's Eighth Approximation resides in the consideration and integration of human activities as factor that affects the evolution of soil,

There is an important implication that we need to discuss first. A morphological taxonomy is essentially forced to assume that there are no humans on that planet, or at least that they are the exception rather than the rule. Admittedly, the Seventh Approximation did have certain taxonomic groups that dealt with the impact of agriculture on the soil, things like if your plough is a foot and a half deep, you will get a hard, compacted pan a foot and a half deep, etc. They were sensitive to that. [
(…) [O]f course, a lot of other things happen to the soil of cities: things are added, burned, dumped, and leaked, with affect the development of soils in ways that are not always well-understood. We can specify the effect in terms of pollution, in specific ways, but in terms of the kind of soil that roads or cemeteries make, its hard to tell and its still in formation. And if we don't know what soil it makes, we don't know how to classify it. So, it is a point at which the USDA taxonomy becomes less useful for classifying soil because it solely operates on morphological properties, and the force behind a morphological classification of soils is the consistency of morphology through time. Here, in the city, we have a total breakdown of this consistency of morphology through time. Here, in the city, we have a total breakdown of this consistency, at the scales of time that it takes for soils to form, and so it becomes very difficult to classify a soil morphologically. What you end up with instead, are engineering taxonomies that specify if a soil is a good, or not good, for a specific function, a subway, a road, etc. So, we don't know what it is, we don't know what it will be, it's just classified in terms of certain properties related to use. 

As Seth Denizen clearly points out, the USDA's Seventh Approximation has left out the urban soil while being very important for a better understanding of increasingly constraints — environmental crisis, climate change, population growth, building footprint, urbanization, high consumption of natural resources, land use goals, carbon dioxide, etc. The integration of urban soils in the USDA's classification system has been made in 1995. Hence Denizen's proposition for a eighth approximation as we will see in the following lines. By creating a new method of classification, Denizen puts on the table the limits of previous systems of soil classification,
What is in the Black Box? Empty Cities on the Soil Survey | © Seth Denizen



Previous systems of soil classification can be differentiated into three groups, with two poles: genetic taxonomies, morphologies taxonomies, and a mix of both. Dukochaev, as a geologist, creates a taxonomy of soils that is genetic; that is, when you ask, "what is a soil?", the answer is always, "where did it come from?" This requires that you know where a soil came from in order to classify it — you have to know your geology. So while Dokuchaev understands soil as a living thing, and not just the residue of rocks, his taxonomy of this body is still based on the observation that certain rocks produce certain soils. It's a phylogenetic move, in the same way that what makes dolphins distinct from fish is not their ecology, it's that they used to be a kind of deer. The system is actually pretty convincing. If you look as the geological map of Virginia, and you overlay it with the soils map, it is almost identical. At the scale of a state, the difference between soil and rock does not really exist; in Virginia, you have Triassic basins that map to the soil survey perfectly. The problem with this is that you end up with a taxonomy in which every soil classification becomes an argument about geology, or geological history, and this leads to any number of differences of opinion on how to classify a soil. [E. Turpin and S. Denizen, in Organs Everywhere, 2012]
Urban Soil Taxonomy: Eighth Approximation | © Seth Denizen

He, then, argues that "urban soils call for a return to genetic taxonomies." Five groups have been identified, as follows: citified, gentrified, commodified, mortified, and beatified.
Citified, first, defines soils as "the result of the deposition of a medium previously available for plant growth". Citified soils can be found in our gardens, too. Gentrified soils are "the deposition of mineral soil or regolith." This type of soil, Seth Denizen goes on, has "no organic matter". As third, commodified soils as the "deposition of materials previously subject to a process of manufacture". A man made soil, or manufactured soil can be listed in this category of commodified soil. This type of soil is produced by construction debris, dead bodies, garbage, incinerator ash, ruins. This category also includes chemically enhanced soils, soils chemically modified in some ways; and demolished soils. Mortified soils, then, are removal. And finally, beatified soils are considered being undisturbed. 
Charlotteville's Soil Survey © Seth Denizen


We have seen above the five categories of soils. Each category regroups subcategories: Mixed, Managed, Eroded, Scalped, Paved, Dredged, Mined, and ManufacturedManufactured, Demolished and Chemically Enhanced are listed in the commodified soil category. As written above, it is produced by organic garbage, incinerator ash, dead bodies, abandoned detritus of commodity and exchange. As second, Mined is the result of  quarried, and excavated acts, while, thirdly, dredged is produced by sub-aqueous sediments. Paved is the deposition of impermeable layers roads, parking lot, building foundations, shoreline revetments. Mixed is compost, commercial topsoil, engineered soils, imported from off-site and deposited. Managed defines graded, bulldozed, turned over, cut and fill soils. Eroded, then, is the result of removal of top soil by wind, rain, or landslide. Scalped, finally, is post-dredged, post-mined, road cuts, trenches. 
Mixed Soil Board ı Topsoil ı Garden and Gun drawing | © Seth Drawing

Citified, thus, regroups mixed and managed; Gentrified: paved, dredged and mined; Mortified: bombed, scalped, and eroded; and Beatified: beatified — undisturbed soils — and Bona Fide — undisturbed soil below 1 meter of the surface.

Related research
Seth Denizen, Jorg Sieweke | Urban Soil Taxonomy in the Anthropocene
Seth Denizen | Urban Soil Taxonomy in the Anthropocene ı Visual Archive


Approximation
Seth Denizen has created an eighth approximation in response to the lack of precision and consideration of urban soils in the Seventh Approximation. As mentioned above, the Seventh Approximation has been developed after two decades of work to generate a new system of soil classification:

When [the Seven Approximation] was published in the 1960's it was a radical new approach to classifying soils, that came from twenty years of work published as "approximation". Now it's become the dominant methodology for classifying soils around the world. […] The Seventh Approximation wasn't released until 1960, decades after the "dirty thirties", but yes it certainly came out of a major reassessment of soil of soil taxonomy following the dust bowl. The history of USDA soil classifications goes back farther than that though. [See E. Turpin and S. Denizen, in Organs Everywhere, issue 4, 2012]
The Eighth Approximation is anthropogenic. It integrates "urban soil into its taxonomy, seamlessly through the introduction of historical process", Seth Denizen co-writes with Jorg Sieweke in Urban Soil Taxonomy in the Anthropocene


[The Eighth Approximation] proposes to imagine that this approximation has been written, and that this approximation incorporates urban soils into its taxonomy seamlessly through the introduction of historical process. The work will consist therefore in making visual and comprehensible a hypothetical taxonomy that draws no distinction between natural and taxonomy, soils are more than their atoms, more than their chemistry, and more than the measurable facts of their empirical phenomenon: soil is historical, cultural, and fully political. In a world that will be increasingly relying on urban soils structurally, agriculturally, and ecologically, both for stability and as one of the two original sources of wealth under capitalism, and understanding of the way in which soil is shaped and formed by urban processes becomes all the more necessary.
Hence the video below.

Suggested research
Robert J. Ahrens, Robert J. Engel, and Loyal A. Quandt | Improving to Meet the Needs of Soil Survey || National Soil Survey Center, USDA-NRCS, Lincoln, Nebraska

Consequences
Observers say that recent natural and man-made events participate to changes. In this context, these environmental effects are associated with human activities: the rise of agriculture and deforestation; energy (coal, oil and gas extraction); combustion of carbon-based fuels; coral reef loss  producing the so-called "reef gaps" similar to those of the past five major extinction events on the planet; increase extinction on the planet; population expansion and its correlations: urbanization, and high consumption of natural resources. As Seth Denizen points out,
The anthropocene arrives at the moment we understand that geology is not distinct from human production. It is the same thing that happens when we understand that we are changing the climate of the earth because we are producing a thing called carbon dioxide that has certain effects that creates atmospheric conditions that we are going to have to live in. In soil science, it is very clear that we are producing our future conditions. It is at that moment that we can ask questions like, what kind of cities do we want to build? And, what kind of conditions do we want to live in? So, the moment the Anthropocene becomes relevant as a discourse is the moment at which we understand that we are creating fundamental geologic conditions that will be living with in both the very near and very distinct future, and that the decisions we make have to be made in relation to these ethical and political futures of the city. [E. Turpin and S. Denizen, Organs Everywhere, 2012]
Consequences to this shift are contaminated, polluted, eroded… soils leading to guilty landscapes.
From biological to geological approach… to landscape…




 

Source: here.

* The fourth issue of Organs Everywhere's Material Shifts is in pdf format.

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