Daniela Sauer (Germany)
Name: Daniela Sauer
Position: Substituting the currently unoccupied position of the Chair of Landscape Sciences and Geoecology (since May 2011), Present Chair of IUSS Commission 1.6, Palaeopedology
Address: Institute of Geography, Dresden University of Technology, Helmholtzstr. 10, Dresden, Germany
1. When did you decide to study soil science?
After finishing school I felt a strong wish to study something enabling me to do a job that would in some way be useful to society. I decided to study ecology. However, I then realized that I was unsatisfied by learning just a little of each discipline comprised in the ecology program. Hence, I set a time limit to myself: Until that date I had to choose one discipline to study more deeply. I think that it was the enthusiasm of my soil science teacher Wolfgang Burghardt and my geomorphology & sedimentology teacher Gerd Schellmann that infected me so that soon my choice was clear: Soil Science
2. Who has been your most influential teacher?
Two teachers that gave direction to my career very early have already been mentioned. Two others were my PhD supervisor Peter Felix-Henningsen (Chair of the German Palaeopedology Group at that time) and Karl Stahr with whom I have worked for almost nine years - and I have continuously been learning from him in each of these nine years. Besides Karl’s enormous experience and pedological knowledge, I am particularly impressed by the enthusiasm with which he is forwarding his knowledge to students and young scientists, and introducing soils also to school classes and to the public.
3. What do you find most exciting about soil science?
It is the complexity of soils and the very different aspects (pedogenetical, physical, biological, chemical, mineralogical…) that can be studied in soils and that have led to a variety of sub-disciplines within soil science. However, I feel that the more we specialize the more important becomes interaction between sub-disciplines. Otherwise we will achieve progress in the special aspects that each of us is investigating but we won’t obtain an integral understanding of those complex systems. The most exciting thing for me personally is the “memory” of soils. I remember very well a field excursion with my geomorphology teacher where probably the seed for my later palaeopedological career was laid: We visited a gravel quarry, where glacial till, glacio-fluvial deposits with sand wedges, clayey sediments of an ice-dammed lake and alluvial sediments with paleosols were exposed. He left small groups of students at different sites along the quarry walls and told us: “When I come back you tell me your story of the development of this landscape.” This seemed really exciting to me! I still feel that fascination each time I discover an instructive sediment-paleosol sequence.
4. How would you stimulate teenagers and young graduates to study soil science?
By SHOWING soils to them in the field. A few times I have shown soil profiles to school classes. The pupils usually had never seen a soil profile before and had of course never thought of soil as a four-dimensional body that develops over thousands of years, is home to an unimaginably large number of organisms and performs ecological services of fundamental importance. I have seen many students becoming fascinated by soils through studying them in a soil pit. I am convinced that a major problem is that in normal life soils are perceived as a two-dimensional area that may be more or less suitable for different types of use. When students discover the world under that area many of them start to understand.
5. How do you see the future of soil science?
I think that the future of soil science depends strongly on the awareness of politicians of the importance of soils….which I guess correlates negatively with the undamped speed by which the most fertile soils in the area where I live continue to be sealed. Because of the common 2D perception of soils it is much more difficult to draw the public’s and politicians’ attention to soils than to forests, drinking water, air quality etc.. The University where I graduated still has master programs in “Environmental Toxicology” and “Water Sciences” but they closed the Soil Science Department…. We need to work on this 2D problem in order to raise the politicians’ awareness of the importance of soils. Otherwise, why should they support research in soil science in economically difficult times?