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GEOG390 Soils and the Environment

S2: Second Semester

Coordinator: Professor Richard Morgan


shrinking and swelling soilThe purpose of the paper is to provide a scientific basis for understanding the nature, causes, and implications of soil system problems that result from human actions.


Soil is a fundamehigh country soilntal resource, both for people and for natural biological systems. It supports plant life and, as a consequence, all terrestrial ecosystems are dependent on it. Soil is also the basis of production agriculture and forestry, which provide food and materials for the global community. However, it is very vulnerable to misuse and abuse. Erosion is thought by many experts to be the most important environmental problem facing humanity today. But even where the soil cover is kept intact, the quality and characteristics of the soil can be drastically altered by our actions. Many of the changes are unseen, and often unsuspected, because they occur within the soil. But the results of those changes - to soil structure, processes and properties - can often affect food production, food quality, ecosystem viability, and the general welfare of communities, both human and non-human, dependent on the soil for their wellbeing and life.

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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 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period Second Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,038.45
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,492.80

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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: Professor Richard Morgan
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.
Teaching Arrangements
There are two lectures per week plus a laboratory programme during which the students, in groups of 6-8, 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
  • 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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Second Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
L1 Monday 10:00-10:50 28-34, 36-41
Tuesday 10:00-10:50 28-34, 36-41


Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend one stream from
P1 Monday 14:00-16:50 29-34, 36-37
P2 Tuesday 14:00-16:50 29-34, 36-37
P3 Wednesday 14:00-16:50 29-34, 36-37