Left: Colorized SEM image of a soybean cyst nematode and an egg (photo: WSU Extension)
Center: Oak tree on a wheat field in the Alentejo region, Portugal (photo: Faísca; Creative Commons)
Right: paleosol near Elgin, Oregon

Welcome to the Geology and Ecology of Soils!

Nick Bader, Spring 2018

Classroom: Hall of Science 116
Class times: Tues/Thurs 1 - 2:20 pm;
Nick's office: Hall of Science 150
Office hours: Mondays 1:30 - 3:50 pm,
Wednesdays 1:30 - 3:50 pm

Shared documents

Course description

Soils provide nutrients, water and support for growing plants, host an amazing variety of organisms, and even influence global climate. This class will focus on the dynamic systems in soil and on the interactions between soils and larger ecosystem properties. Course topics will include pedogenic processes, agricultural ecosystems, the interpretation of paleosols, and the role of soils in the global biogeochemical cycling of organic carbon and nutrients.

What will this class do for you?

After this class, I hope you will:

  • Understand soils as dynamic, living systems, not simply as inert media supporting plant growth
  • Be familiar with the under-appreciated cast of characters in the soil biota
  • Understand the way soils interact with water and nutrients moving through them
  • Be able to intelligently converse about soil carbon sequestration, soil conservation, and other pertinent environmental issues
  • And finally, I hope those of you who are interested in farming or gardening will leave this class with practical insight about the invisible processes occurring in your own backyards.

Course structure

Each week, there will be two 1.5-hour class periods designed to introduce fundamental concepts of soil science and soil ecology. Often these class periods will be devoted to lecture and images of soils.  Occasionally we will have a field trip, presentation or hands-on activity during the class time, or homework outside of class time; these assignments will be an important part of your course grade.  Three exams will test your mastery of the materials we discuss in class.

Course materials

  • Required textbook: N.C. Brady and R.R. Weil, Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils 3e. Prentice Hall, 2009.
  • Other required readings are available on the Google Drive location I will send to you separately.

Field Trips

There will be several field trips held during the regular class time. See the schedule for the dates. On these days, we will meet at the loading dock (the entrance at the northwest corner of the Science atrium, near the parking lot).  It is your responsibility to wear weather-appropriate clothing that you are willing to get dirty (e.g. not bare feet or 6-inch stiletto heels), and bring a notebook and pencil.  We will return by the usual class ending time, so you shouldn't have a problem making it to your next scheduled event.

Finding me

I have official office hours when you are most likely to find me in my office in Hall of Science 150; see the top of this page for those times.  I know that Whitman students have busy schedules, and it is common that students can't make my scheduled office hours.  No problem!  You can handle this in several ways: first, you are welcome to bring questions to my office whenever the door is open (or even a little bit open - sometimes it gets noisy in the Science atrium).  If this does not work for you, contact me by email and we will schedule a time that works for you.


I use a standard system for grading based on your percentage of total possible points:

Percentage Grade
97 - 100% A+
93 - 96% A
90 - 92% A-
87 - 89% B+
83 - 86% B
80 - 82% B-
77 - 79% C+
73 - 76% C
70 - 72% C-
67 - 69% D+
63 - 66% D
60 - 62% D-
< 60% F

Exams (60% of the class grade)

There will be three exams, each worth 20% of the course grade.  Exams will primarily cover material from lecture.  Material from the readings will only appear on exams if I have explicitly warned you about it.  The first two exams are not cumulative, except insofar as understanding material from earlier in the class may be necessary to understand later material.  The final exam in this course will focus about half on material from the final third of the course, and about half on material from the first two thirds.  The first two exams will be held during the lecture periods indicated on the course schedule; the third exam will be held during the final exam slot (also on the course schedule).  This time is set by the registrar and is not negotiable.  If circumstances beyond your control force you to miss an exam, please contact me ahead of time by phone, email, or in person to discuss it.

Homework, presentations, projects (40% of the class grade)

You will work on a number of small projects this semester, ranging from soil sampling to soil description, to short presentations to the class.  I will be providing details as they arise during the semester.  I will try to give you an idea about the relative weight of these assignments as they are assigned, but they will collectively total 40% of the course grade, so please take them seriously!  Your participation in particular classes will also be counted in this category (see Attendance below).

Late work

Many assignments in this course cannot be turned in late (e.g. participating on a field trip, giving a presentation, etc.).  For assignments that can be turned in late, they will lose points at a rate of 10% each day they are late, rounded up (see table below). I will only grant extensions in truly exceptional circumstances, and you must let me know ahead of time and explain the situation. But it really must be something extraordinary and out of your control.

How late Grade reduction
Up to 1 day 10%
1 - 2 days 20%
2 - 3 days 30%
3 - 4 days 40%
More than 4 days 50%
More than 2 weeks Not accepted


In general, I do not enforce your attendance in lecture, and if you are already an expert you may be able to ace this course without coming to any lectures. However, there are exceptions to this rule, when your attendance is REQUIRED in order to get full credit:

  • Any time we have a presentation by a guest speaker, including your fellow students
  • Field trips
  • In-class activities

I will try to warn you in advance when these sorts of things will happen, but ultimately it is your responsibility and your decision to come to class or not.  If you need to miss one of these classes, it is your responsibility to let me know ahead of time if you know you will need to miss class, or have the health center contact me if you are sick.  I should note that there is no doubt that your attendance habits will affect your grade! The simplest way to excel is to attend all the lectures, since the exams will cover materials discussed in lecture.  You are responsible for knowing everything we cover in class.

Course Calendar

View this calendar in other formats

If you use Google Calendar, you can view these events in your own calendar.  Just click the button at the bottom right of the calendar.  You will be offered access to two calendars; one named for the Soils class (with most of the course events), and a second calendar called "Bader - all classes" that includes my office hours and occasionally special events like guest speakers.

If you want a schedule suitable for printing, you may click here to download a pdf.  Warning: our schedule may change during this semester, rendering the pdf version obsolete.  The Google calendar will remain up-to-date and should be your primary reference.