Due to the Corona virus it is unclear how the programmes will take place. For the latest news please check the course page in Blackboard/Brightspace.


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Soils, Sediment and Society




Admissions requirements

Required: Global Challenges: Sustainability.

Highly recommended: Geographic Information Systems; Earth System Science; 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 tell how soils form by detailing important controls and processes and their influence on soil behavior

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

  • Can sample soil material and perform basic analyses in the laboratory

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

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

  • 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

  • Appreciate soil functions and the importance of soil conservation.


The course program includes a mandatory four- (to five-) day field stay in the Rhenish Slate Mountains. Participating in this course, therefore, means

  • To participate in the mandatory field stay because its contents and own field data sampling are essential to understanding basic concepts of soil sciences (parent materials, formation, classification, geography) and completing assignments

  • That students in part have to cover costs of transportation, accommodation and food out of their own pocket.

  • To organize travel to and back from the field site themselves.

The field trip will take place during the break between two blocks. The study area will be the surroundings of Gerolstein (Eifel Mountains). We will probably rent vacation homes (felsenhof.de).

LUC will probably financially support the field stay by (at least) partially taking over costs for accommodation. However, more detailed information can only be provided later once the number of participants is known. Costs for travel are on you and depend on your choice of transportation.

Further short field trips to the coats and the Haagse Bos will be scheduled to describe and sample soils. These field trips (i.e., out-of-class-teaching) probably have to be scheduled for two Wednesday afternoons in the beginning of the block.

Furthermore, depending on organizational opportunites we may go on an additional one-day field trip to Wageningen.

To compensate for the extra time spent on in the field, regular class meetings will be held only once per week (tbd). Nevertheless, students are advised use the official timeslots to see me to receive advice on the their assignments.

Again, this is preliminary information and subject to change. Please, only sign up for the course if you can agree on 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

  • Conduct proper soil sampling and perform basic chemical analyses

  • 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

Field teaching is essential to this course to make students familiar with the diverse nature of soils. This course includes a field stay and short off-campus field trips will be arranged. During the field stay, students will conduct self-dependent soil mapping as a team followed by editing a map of soil types and soil properties on their own. Basic field skills will be trained during short trips to the coast and the Haagse Bos of The Hague.

Some in-class time will be used to prepare work on assignments, in particular the use of online soil information systems and GIS works (group assignment). We will also use the reading and discussion of textbook chapters and selected journal articles to further the understanding of fundamentals of soil formation and soilscape change


Students are required to have read assigned readings to prepare class and field stay participation (15%). Two short-report group assignments (2 × 15%, student pairs) will relate to field trip content and field stay preparation. The final report (group assignment, 2500 words; 15%) describes field stay content (questions, method, results, etc.) of the field stay (including independent soil mapping activities). Furthermore, students will be assessed on the basis of an individual paper (of >2500 words, 25%) 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.) OR hydrometer particle-size analysis in the laboratory (description and data evaluation).


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.)

  • Chesworth, W. (ed.), 2008. Encyclopedia of Soil Science. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series, Springer, Dordrecht, 916 p.
    It is not required to purchase these book (but the first 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 course.administration@luc.leidenuniv.nl.