The 5,000-square foot exhibition is called 'Dig It! The Secrets of Soil.' In addition to the soil samples, 'Dig It!' also includes interactive displays, hands-on models and videos. The exhibition will be featured at the natural history museum for nearly two years.
'This exhibition reminds us of the importance and benefits of healthy and productive soils,' Schafer said. 'Soils are a vital resource; they are the foundation of life. We should protect them and do what we can to increase public awareness about their significance.'
The designated state soil samples—or monoliths—are part of a gallery of monoliths representing all the states, the District of Columbia, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands. An extensive map created by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) will offer visitors the 'big picture' by allowing them to learn more about soils around the world.
USDA-NRCS, USDA's lead agency for soil conservation, constructed the monoliths with assistance from many partners, including the Soil Science Society of America and the National Association of Conservation Districts. USDA first exhibited most of the monoliths at a centennial celebration of the soil survey on the National Mall in 1999.
A monolith or soil profile, usually about six feet deep, shows the soil's natural layers. Its extraction from a soils pit is the first step in a lengthy process in creating a monolith, which is mounted and preserved. A soil monolith usually measures 48 by 8 inches.
The exhibition also explains how a soil is named. Each state has a designated soil that is represented by a soil series with special significance to a particular area. Of that number, 20 states have recognized their representative state soil through official legislation.
Soils that share similar origins, as well as chemical and physical properties, are grouped and labeled as a soil series. Soil scientists usually name a soil series after a town or landmark in or near the area where the soil was first recognized. Representative soils also have been selected for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam.
The District of Columbia completed the state and territory soil designation listing when it named its representative soil—Sunnyside— at an Earth Day event in April 2007. Sunnyside soil is featured in panels that describe how to make a monolith.
On the exhibition's opening day, USDA-NRCS staff will demonstrate soil in its beauty and complexity at several stations. Visitors will be able to make miniature soil profiles at one station and see how water travels through different types of soils at another.
Following its showing at the natural history museum, 'Dig It!' is expected to travel to 10 museums across the country through 2013 under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
At an event at USDA headquarters on July 18, USDA will honor 70 federal employees, mostly from USDA, Department of Interior and the Smithsonian Institution who assisted with the exhibition's development. Through the use of its knowledgeable and skilled soils staff around the nation, USDA donated its technical expertise in soils to assist the museum in developing the exhibition.