Soil Field Methods

Mark Bowen
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
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Initial Publication Date: November 24, 2014


Students collect a soil profile using a bucket auger and then describe the profile in the field.

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The activity is used in an undergraduate introductory physical geography course that includes a 2-hour laboratory session that meets once per week. The focus of the course is landforms and soils. The course is predominantly composed of non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

None, but a familiarity with basic soil properties and soil horizons is helpful.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the third part of a three-part series of exercises related to soils. In the first part students are introduced to basic physical properties of soils and soil horizons. In the second-part students use a county-level soil survey.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Become familiar with standard soil sampling equipment and techniques
  • Understand soil profile development
  • Identify soil horizons
  • Utilize a soil survey

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

To prepare for this exercise, students are first introduced to basic soil properties and soil horizons in a previous lab. Students also utilize a soil survey to describe the soil they will be sampling prior to conducting this exercise.
To conduct this exercise, students work in groups of 4. We conduct the exercise in a greenspace on the edge of our campus - a very short walk from our building. Students are first asked to describe the study site. They then collect a 4-foot-long bucket auger profile and describe the profile with the aid of the Field Book for Describing and Sampling Soils. Upon completion of the exercise, I select the most complete profile and we go over the profile in detail as a compete group.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students complete the exercise during a 2-hour laboratory session. Students are expected to work in groups. Upon completion of the laboratory exercise, students must complete an online quiz that consists of the same questions in the exercise as well as questions on the background information included in the lab before the next lab meeting. The online quiz is within the Desire 2 Learn (D2L) online learning platform, so answers are automatically graded and imported into the student's grade book.

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