Above and Underground


The Emirates Soil Museum at the Dubai-based International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) is a unique facility in the Arab region offering the opportunity to visitors to acquaint themselves with the above and underground “soil story”. What you see aboveground is only fraction of that story: you see the buildings, but not the foundations; you see the beauty of the landscape with a diversity of plants, but you don’t see how the roots are distributed in the soil to support those plants by providing water and nutrients from underground. And soil is not just there to help the plant grow, but it also filters water, recycles organic matter, provides nutrients essential for life, and above all provides ecosystem services.

The Emirates Soil Museum has both external (“Educational Landscape”) and internal exhibits that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the world of soil.

Outside, they include a presentation of all kinds of plants that grow in the UAE (including some that have medicinal value), of rocks, of “the seven colors of sand” of UAE soil, and of the traditional “aflaj”, and other irrigation systems.

Inside the museum, there is an “Above the Ground” and an “Underground Adventures” part.

“Underground Adventures” are categorized into themes. In one of the exhibits the insects and beetles are clawing their way over the rocks and crawling on the grass. This unique exhibit also shows how living organisms exist underground and provides a great photo opportunity. Another exhibit is dedicated to tools commonly used to observe underground features, followed by specialized and modern equipment to assess soil and water salinity. Salinity is one of the threats to our lands for food security and ecosystem services. Specimens of common igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks from the UAE are displayed as well as a pedon (a three-dimensional sample of a soil) showing the master horizons of UAE soil.

Soil monoliths collected from the UAE are displayed in six themes: 1) Winds of Time, 2) New Soil Discovery, 3) Soils and Ecosystem, 4) Soils and Food Security, 5) Soils and Climate Change, and 6) Threats to Soils. The exhibit illustrates how simple characteristics of soils, such as porosity, differently structured soil layers, soil minerals and soil types influence water infiltration, water and nutrient holding capacities, food production, roots development and accumulation of organic matter. 

A sand dune simulator shows how the sand moves in a desert environment to form dust storms and develop different shapes of sand dunes. A water infiltration simulator shows a transparent tumbler tube with sand, silt and clay. On spinning a wheel visitors can see how different-sized particles affect water movement.

And there is much, much more - enough to satisfy to the curiosity of every visitor, and make you leave the museum with a new appreciation of the ground you walk on!