Geology and Ecology of Soils

Nick Bader, Fall 2019

Class time: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 2:20 pm, Hall of Science 116

Meeting with me

You can find me in my office in the Hall of Science 150, just off the atrium, on Mondays 11 am to noon, Mondays 1-3 pm, and Tuesdays 2:30 - 4 pm. (This semester, if I am not in my office, try the GIS lab, Science 176, near our classroom - I may be helping a student there.) During these office hours, you can stop by without an appointment to discuss the course or whatever is on your mind. If these times don't work for you, 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, just email me and we can set up an appointment.

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 4e. Prentice Hall, 2018.
  • Other required readings are available on the Google Drive location below.

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 building, near the west 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.


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

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 5% each day, rounded up, that they are late. For example, if you turn in your assignment less than 24 hours late, your maximum score will be 95%; if you turn it in between one and two days late, your maximum score will be 90%, etc. 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.


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.

Course resources

Below are some resources available in electronic format. These include the course syllabus (which is merely a hard copy of parts of this website), a pdf of our course schedule, a folder of lecture notes in pdf format that will be filled as the semester progresses, and a folder of readings that I assign from outside our textbook. Regarding the course schedule: our schedule may change during this semester, rendering the pdf version obsolete. The Google calendar above will remain up-to-date and should be your primary reference.