Soil properties, morphology and formation

Lixin Jin,
University of Texas at El Paso


This course centers on the overlap of soil science and geology. Our goal is to explain the fundamental principles in soil sciences, introduce the concept of critical zone, where water, rock, biology, and atmosphere interact as a system.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

Students are expected to have a background in geology, chemistry and biology. In particular, a working knowledge of chemical equilibria, ionic solution chemistry, pH, and oxidation-reduction reactions, different types of minerals and rocks and their reactivity, is highly recommended. Students without such background should consult with the instructor before enrolling.

Course Content:

Through this course, students will understand: (1) how the interactions of landform, topography, climate, and biota result in patterns of soil development and the distribution of soils that we observe within the landscape; (2) how physical, chemical and biological properties of soils affect water and nutrient availability to plants; (3) how nutrients are cycled within terrestrial ecosystems; and (4) what are the typical types of soils in the El Paso regions and how these soils are influenced by climate and human activities.

Course Goals:

The students will be able to describe soil properties, identify major biogeochemical processes during soil genesis in watersheds of different lithology, climate, topography and soil age, gain basic knowledge of soil functions to support agriculture and different ecosystems, and understand hillslope development and landscape evolution. Students should be able to appreciate how human activities impact soils.

Course Features:

I introduce the basic principles of soil properties, genesis and morphology, but pay a special emphasis on local soil development (e.g., soil salinity and sodicity in agricultural soils, pedogenic carbonate etc).

Course Philosophy:

This course will expose students to a variety of topics and prepare them for environmental science-related workforce.


Have numerous discussion during each lecture. Have scenarios to invoke critical thinking.


Syllabus_soils (Acrobat (PDF) 68kB Apr29 13)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Brady, N.C., and R.R. Weil. 2002. The Nature and Properties of Soils, 13th Edition.
Recommended by colleagues

Journal articles related to soil development in semiarid and arid environments.