InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Critical Zone Science > Student Materials > Student Materials Unit 1.2
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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For the Instructor

These student materials complement the Critical Zone Science Instructor Materials. If you would like your students to have access to the student materials, we suggest you either point them at the Student Version which omits the framing pages with information designed for faculty (and this box). Or you can download these pages in several formats that you can include in your course website or local Learning Managment System. Learn more about using, modifying, and sharing InTeGrate teaching materials.

Unit 1.2: Role of Soil

Introduction

In this lesson we will focus on soil, the "heart" of the Critical Zone. Soil consists of mineral and organic matter derived from a variety of sources and it is vitally important to sustaining life on Earth, including human society. You will learn that soils are not randomly distributed about our planet, but instead occupy space determined by the overlapping domains of the state factors of soil formation. Ultimately, soil records the overlap of atmospheric, lithospheric, hydrologic, and biologic processes, the innermost workings of the CZ. Finally, you will consider the distribution of soils at a site chosen by you and cleared with your professor, and the implications of the distribution to understanding CZ processes and land use at the site. You will accomplish this using an online resource. In this unit, you will:

  • recognize soil as a socially relevant mineral and biotic entity
  • identify the five state factors of soil formation and basic information regarding their importance, and apply that knowledge to a site
  • discuss how soils are described and classified into twelve soil orders and how those soil orders are geographically distributed
  • explain five of the major threats to healthy soils
  • apply information from the Web Soil Survey to land-use planning and decision making.

Unit 1.2: Role of Soil

Part 1 - Examining Soil

Pre-class
In-class

Soil study

Homework
  • Browse "12 Soil Orders" website (more info) to learn about how we classify soils in the U.S., as well as the Compendium website to learn how other nations approach the description and classification of their soil resources. You should also study the global map of the distribution of soils. Then address the following 3 questions (typed, ~2 pgs dbl spaced) based on the two websites above:
  1. Do you observe any generalized pattern to the distribution of any of the soil orders?
  2. If so, can you attribute the distribution to any understanding you may have of the state factors of soil formation?
  3. Can you draw any conclusions regarding the relative importance of any of the state factors of soil formation from your observations?

Part 2 - Soil Surveying and Mapping

In-class

Class Discussion

  • Think-pair-share review of three questions from the soil classification website assigned as homework after last class period. Then you will look at the WebSoilSurvey website to learn how the tool works and how it can be used to address land-use planning and decision making.

WebSoilSurvey Activity

  • Use the NRCS WebSoilSurvey http://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm (Note: you have to disable blocked pop-up windows for this to work) website to do soil surveying, mapping, and land-use planning. Coupling the reading with the WebSoilSurvey, review the information derived from the NRCS SoilSurvey web site to assess or infer the following factors. Be sure to cite each separate report that you reference when answering these questions. A final report from this exercise should include a soil map of the chosen study site with either a description of the site location or a larger scale map in which the site can be located and the following information:
    • The dominant soil type at the study site?
    • Any characteristics of the dominant soil that effect land use and whether or not the effect is positive or negative?
    • Whether or not the state soil exists at the study site? If not, where is the closest location where the state soil is mapped?
    • A brief description of the importance of the state factors in the formation of the dominant soil at the study site. Compare/contrast the dominant soil to the state soil.(see NRCS State Soil info: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/edu/?cid=stelprdb1236841)
    • What are the primary threats to soil at the site?
    • Optional:Are there any soil exposures located at the study site? If so, what soil type is exposed? If not, where is the closest soil exposure to your study site? Include a photograph of any soil exposures you visit.
    • The following activity sheet may help to guide development of your reports: WebSoilSurvey Activity Sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 32kB Dec23 16)

Additional Resources

These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »