Landscape Pedology

Stephanie Ewing,
Montana State University-Bozeman


We explore approaches to evaluating soil development using concepts of soil age and residence time, and variation of soil properties with climate, geomorphic and hydrologic context, plant communities, and parent material. The course includes a substantial hands-on field component, written soil interpretation, quantitative problem sets, and independent investigation that is reported back to the class. Land use and soil management for agriculture/range are considered in the context of larger scale controls on soil development and distribution.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is a senior level course with one prerequisite: introductory soils. Typically, most of the class has this course as a requirement; close to half are majors in Environmental Sciences (Land Rehabilitation, Soil and Water emphases) and close to half are majors in Natural Resources & Rangeland Ecology. Others opting to take the class are typically majors in Engineering, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Biology.

Course Content:

This class focuses on quantifying processes of soil development, taking advantage of local examples through field trips (~six) requiring hands-on evaluation of local soils. There are two problem sets for practice in quantifying soils mass fluxes (carbon, silicon, nitrogen). Students learn fundamentals of soil description, soil taxonomy and basic landform assessment, and develop skills in written interpretation of soil processes in landscape context based on observation of a few soil profiles during each lab.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to

1. Describe and interpret soils in terms of key processes
2. Quantify mass fluxes within and through soils
3. Understand Montana soils in global context and in terms of local land use/management

Course Features:

Goal 1 is addressed through field trips, write-ups, and independent soil investigation presented to the class.

Goal 2 is addressed though problem sets with guidance in lecture.

Goal 3 is addressed through lecture and with field trips highlighting local land use (local agriculture, soil restoration efforts)

Course Philosophy:

We have a great natural lab here in Bozeman, with excellent field trip potential in all directions. I find that by giving students a range of avenues for expression/credit (field trips, lab writeups, problem sets, class discussion during lecture, independent investigation and presentation), I get to know the students and their particular life experience and associated strengths and skills well.

I strongly feel that college seniors have a lot to offer and yet they have not necessarily been asked to think independently or synthetically in their academic endeavors. Yet these are crucial skills (contributions) in the natural sciences and in land resource management. I try to encourage active participation and creative engagement in the various components of the class because I truly value this kind of exchange - to me this is the reason to teach.

My philosophy as stated on my syllabus:

Active learning requires independent thinking and curiosity. Why are you here? I strongly encourage you to ask questions, propose answers, contribute your unique perspective and experience, critique in a constructive way, and be respectful. If you have concerns or curiosities, please take them up with me in office hours.


I try to structure the grading scheme around my goals, with many opportunities for individuals to achieve good grades by drawing upon their strengths. Here is the breakdown:

Daily quizzes (~20): 10%
Lab writeups (First soil description, Hyalite, Red Bluff, Fort Ellis, Judith Basin, Lutz/other): 40%
***lab scores can be improved by re-submitting within one week of graded return
Problem sets (two): 10%
Class participation: 10% (questions/discussion in lecture & field, office hours)
Class presentation: 10%
Exams (2): 20%


Syllabus for Ewing's Landscape Pedology course (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 146kB Apr29 13)

Teaching Materials:

Lab report rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 106kB Apr29 13)
Independent project rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 69kB Apr29 13)

References and Notes:

Schaetzl & Anderson, Soils; Birkeland, Soils and Geomorphology
Birkeland is my favorite but is old. S&A I'm less fond of, but it gives me something to use rather than reinventing the wheel.

Need to write modules for labs

Assign a few readings from primary scientific literature - with mixed results