Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Help Students Think like Soil Scientists

Emphasizing cross-disciplinary concepts in teaching soil science courses, such as mass-volume relationships, can help undergraduates learn real-world, problem-solving skills that are crucial to their success in soil science careers.

Drs. Josh Heitman and Michael Vepraskas, North Carolina State University Soil Science Department, highlighted this need for quantitative measurement skills in an article detailing the importance of teaching mass and volume relationships at the undergraduate level. The article is published in the recent issue of the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education.

Basic physical concepts, such as mass and volume relationships, are found throughout different scientific disciplines. This provides a framework for cross-disciplinary communication that should be emphasized in undergraduate soils training. For soils students to develop these skills, undergraduate course work highlighting quantitative ways to characterize and describe soils is critical. Soil science-specific terminology can, and should, be maintained, but fundamental, cross-disciplinary definitions must be emphasized so that the terminology is clearly connected to what it means.

Subsidence (i.e. loss of horizon thickness) can provide a clear example to emphasize basic mass-volume concepts for problem solving in soils courses. Drainage of wetland soils for agriculture and other purposes has been a common practice for many years. However, drainage of organic soils results in subsidence through shrinkage, loss of buoyancy, and oxidation of organic matter. More recently, much work has focused on restoration of wetland soils to their original natural condition. Discussing restoration of an organic wetland soil can provide a practical problem solving lesson for teaching about subsidence and mass-volume relationships.

The question of how much the soil has subsided is important to consider. Restoration normally causes the water table to rise to the levels that existed before drainage and subsidence. If a soil has subsided 1 meter, for example, then when restored, the water table will be 1 m above the existing surface, creating ponding and impairing the growth of replanted vegetation. Determining how much soil has subsided can be difficult because there is typically no marker or baseline to indicate the position of the original soil surface prior to drainage. Data are only available to describe current conditions for a particular soil profile. Scientists must make use of mass-volume relationship and inference to assess the amount of subsidence that has occurred. Information about post-drainage and un-drained, offsite horizon thickness, bulk density, and mineral content can be used to develop an estimate of the amount of subsidence.

When approaching this problem, students should be encouraged to consider which mass and volume components of the three-phase (i.e. solid – mineral and organic, liquid, and gas) soil system have been altered by subsidence. Both primary (i.e. loss of buoyancy and shrinkage) and secondary (i.e. oxidation) subsidence must be considered. From there we consider what relationships (e.g. bulk density and mineral content) have changed among these soil phases. Students can evaluate soil profile data obtained from drained and un-drained sites including sand content, bulk density, and horizon thickness. They may then begin to solve the problem by developing their own assumptions or may be guided to the assumptions in the original study:

Careful explanation of this example problem to students in undergraduate course work provides a way to incorporate concepts of mass, volume, soil bulk density, mineral and organic fractions, and subsidence in a practical, problem-solving framework. This, in turn, makes for a better understanding of how to compute other mass-volume soil properties such as water contents and porosity that, in our experience, are difficult for our students to grasp. For instructors, considering this example may also suggest parallel problems involving other applications of important quantitative concepts. Addition of this or similar exercises to undergraduate soils course work can help to equip students with quantitative tools important to success in a multi-disciplinary career environment.

Today's educators are looking to the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education,, for the latest teaching techniques in the life sciences, natural resources, and agriculture. The journal is continuously updated online during the year and one hard copy is published in December by the American Society of Agronomy.

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) , is a scientific society helping its 8,000+ members advance the disciplines and practices of agronomy by supporting professional growth and science policy initiatives, and by providing quality, research-based publications and a variety of member services.

Sara Uttech | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Science Education:

nachricht Studying outdoors is better
06.02.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Classroom in Stuttgart with Li-Fi of Fraunhofer HHI opened
03.11.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, HHI

All articles from Science Education >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Development and Fast Analysis of 3D Printed HF Components

19.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

In monogamous species, a compatible partner is more important than an ornamented one

19.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Signaling Pathways to the Nucleus

19.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>