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Soils, Sediment and Society




Admissions requirements

Required: Earth System Science

Highly recommended: Geographic Information Systems, Environmental Science

Students will have to complete assignments using GIS. Nevertheless, assignments with a GIS component are designed as group assignments thus allowing students to participate with no or little skills in using GIS.


Soil is a distinct and genuine natural body of the Earth whose properties are essential to all terrestrial life. Still, soil is also the most overlooked environmental resource. Understanding the complexity of soil formation and soil diversity, therefore is key. Soil forms due to a complex interplay of a range of abiotic and biotic environmental processes leading to diversity of soils around us. At the same time, soil development alters the effectiveness of abiotic landscape processes (e.g., geomorphic processes like erosion, deposition, or water cycling, etc.) and biotic ecosystem processes. Students are presented with a number of fundamental influences and processes of soil formation. Furthermore, course contents cover relationships of soil development, land use impacts on soils and corresponding past to present processes of environmental change. By the end of the course,

  • students can identify how soils form by detailing important soil processes and their influence on soil behavior

  • students can recognize and classify basic soil types based on own field observations (mapping)

  • students can interpret and represent soil information on maps by producing own soil maps (using a GIS)

  • students can describe the formation, properties and the role of soils in a variety of the world’s terrestrial geosystems (focus: central European environments)

  • students can explain historic and current issues of soil erosion and correlated impacts on soils and river environments, and associated past to present processes of environmental change

  • students appreciate soil functions and the importance of soil conservation.

The course program includes a compulsory field trip to the Rhenish Slate Mountains of northern Germany (about 45 minutes east of Cologne). Participating in this course, therefore, means

  • To participate in a 3-day field trip (over the weekend), as the contents and field data sampling is essential for understanding concepts fundamental to soil science (parent material, soil evolution, classification, geography, erosion, environmental change),

  • That students cover some of the costs of accommodation and food out of their own pocket (amount TBD),

  • To organize transportation to and from the field site.

Note: LUC will probably financially support some of the field costs (e.g., accommodation), and more detailed information on the costs and schedule to be provided later. Costs for travel to the field site depend on your choice of transportation, but should be quite low because of the proximity of the site. The field trip dates are TBD, but could occur over a long weekend. Sign up for the course if you agree with these conditions.

Course objectives

This course teaches students in basic methods employed to retrieve, process and evaluate spatial-distributed field data in order to describe and understand environmental processes of soil formation and soil-changing processes triggered by human use of the soil resource. By the end of this course, students are expected to:

  • Detail what processes characterize the development of natural soils and how the legacy of landscape evolution, topographic setting, climate and biotic factors determine soil properties in various environmental settings

  • Place soil and land use issues in the context of both longer-term and current environmental change

  • Know how human activities modify rates, intensities and spatial occurrence of soil erosion, colluviation, and floodplain sedimentation,

  • Exhibit basic skills in field description and identification of soils,

  • Depict spatial soil information based on their own field sampling,

  • Assess the sustainability of soil use for different historic and present cases of soil erosion through both critical evaluation of the literature and field data,

  • Place losses of the soil resource in its broader social, economic and institutional settings,
    By the completion of a seminar paper and a field report, students will be trained in skills, procedures, methods and subjects that are eligible for Capstone research projects.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

This course will use the reading and discussion of textbook chapters and journal articles to further the understanding of fundamentals of soil formation and soilscape change through natural processes and/or human activities. The course comprises lectures, discussions of learning materials and student presentations. Field teaching is essential to this course to make students familiar with the diverse nature of soils. Also, students will conduct self-dependent soil mapping as a team followed by editing a map of soil types on their own. Some in-class time will be used to work on assignments (including GIS works as group assignment), still students will have to complete more time-consuming assignments referring to class contents and field exercises (data processing and evaluation) between class meetings.


Students are required to have read assigned readings to prepare class participation (10%). Two short-report group assignments (2 × 15%) will relate to field data sampling and are building blocks towards working on the final report (group assignment, 2500 words; 15%). Furthermore, students will be assessed on the basis of an individual seminar paper of >3000 words (30%) and a related in-class presentation (15%) on a specific topic (e.g., macronutrient cycling, heavy metals in soils, ancient civilizations and soil erosion, etc.).


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

There will be no required textbook for the course because there is no single one that covered the material discussed in class. Relevant course material will be made available through BlackBoard. Nevertheless, to study fundamentals of soil formation and properties we will use:

Schaetzl, R.J., Anderson, S., 2005. Soils: Genesis and Geomorphology. Cambridge (USA), Cambridge University Press, 817 p. (The more recent 3rd edition is equally eligible.)

It is not required to purchase this book (it is a great textbook though).


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact