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GEOG390 Soils and the Environment

The characteristics and structure of soils; nutrient systems; human impact on soils; a project and laboratories as required.

Soils are the basis of life on Earth: they support natural terrestrial ecosystems, and those created by humankind, on which we rely for food and other key resources. But increasingly our activities, from agriculture and forestry, to urban, industrial and even recreational land uses, threaten the health of this major resource. In this paper, we look at soil from an ecological point of view, to understand human impacts on soil health and provide a basis for addressing those problems through informed environmental management.

Paper title Soils and the Environment
Paper code GEOG390
Subject Geography
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2023 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,141.35
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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54 GEOG points
GEOG 284
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Science
An environmental science background will be an advantage.
Teaching staff

Course Co-ordinator: To be advised when paper is next offered.

Paper Structure

There are four main sections to the paper. The first section deals with the form and dynamics of the soil from an ecological perspective, the second section provides the theoretical basis for understanding soil formation processes, the third section covers the influence of soil conditions on plant life and the fourth section deals with the impact of human actions of soil, and indirectly on vegetation, using the principles established earlier in the course.

Assessment is 50% internal (on-going during the semester) and 50% external (final examination).

Teaching Arrangements

2 lectures per week and a series of 3 hour laboratory sessions scheduled over the 13 weeks of semester.

In the laboratory programme, students will work in groups of 6-8, and work through a series of soil tests to investigate a soil affected by a particular human activity.



Main course text:
McLaren, R.G. and Cameron, K.C. (1996) Soil Science. Oxford University Press., Auckland (2nd edn.).

Entry-level text:
Ashman, M.R. and Puri, G. (2002) Essential soil science. Blackwell.

Extension text:
Brady, N.C. and Weil, C.C. (2007) The nature and properties of soil. (14th edn.)

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Communication, Critical thinking, Environmental literacy, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this paper will gain:

  • An understanding of the structure and processes of the soil from an ecological perspective
  • An appreciation of the nature of the main New Zealand soil types and the environmental factors that gave rise to them
  • An understanding of the main processes by which people affect the soil system and the implications of such effects
  • A familiarity with the main techniques for the chemical analysis of soils
  • An awareness of the opportunities for postgraduate research in this field

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Not offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system