The NRCS has entered roughly 35 million individual soil profile maps into its database over time. Waltman credits the combination of WVU’s outstanding computing resources with the vast information of the NRCS for the GRU’s ability to provide nimble response in times of potential emergency.

The GRU uses and develops geographic information systems and other remote sensing technologies to create an inventory of the soils of the United States and an accurate picture of their individual qualities and potential uses. The unit has a diverse clientele, though requests often focus on issues related to climate change.

“That’s one mission of the GRU, to use existing data about the nation’s soil resources for many different purposes, from land use planning to environmental modeling,” said Jim Thompson, WVU director of the unit and an associate professor of soil science in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. According to Thompson, the GRU is unique in its ability to “handle large data sets quickly and synthesize them.”

And soils are a complex natural resource, with tens of thousands of identified series, or types, of soils, each with unique components and properties.

“Any one property of a soil isn’t that difficult to understand, but it’s not just that one property that defines a soil’s reaction to different circumstances,” Thompson said.

With its combination of cutting-edge technology, skilled staff, and the assembled knowledge of the many soils that make up our landscape, the GRU is in a unique position to provide answers both in times of disaster and in periods of opportunity.