The Soil at Work (AFNR5510)


This is a problem-based applied soil science unit addressing the physical, chemical and biological components of soil function. It is designed to allow students to identify soil-related problems in the real-world and by working in a group and with an end-user, to suggest short and long-term solutions to problems such as fertility, resilience, carbon management, structural decline, acidification, salinisation and contamination. The soil biology workshops will allow student groups to incorporate relevant measurements of soil biota in their experiments. Students will gain some understanding of the concept of sustainability, and will be able to identify the causes of problems by reference to the literature, discussion with landusers and by the design and execution of key experiments and surveys. Students will gain a focused knowledge of the key soil drivers to environmental problems and will have some understanding on the constraints surrounding potential solutions. By designing and administering strategies to tackle real-world soil issues, students will develop their research and inquiry skills and enhance their intellectual autonomy. By producing reports and seminars that enables understanding by an end-user, students will improve the breadth of their communication skills. This is a core unit for students majoring or specialising in soil science and an elective unit for those wishing to gain an understanding of environmental problem-solving. It utilises and reinforces soil-science knowledge gained in SOIL2003 and SOIL2004, as well as generic problem-solving skills gained during the degree program.

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Further unit of study information


Problem-based unit: each student completes 1 problem as part of a team, involving multiple team meetings; 4 x 4 hr soil biology workshops


Introduction to the problem group presentation (10%); Status of the problem group report (10%); How to tackle the problem seminar (20%) - team seminars, before fieldwork, analyses done; Results seminar (20%) - team seminars; Final group report (25%); Activities diary for group (15%).


Reference book: I.W.Heathcote 1997. Environmental Problem Solving: A Case Study Approach. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, USA.

Faculty/department permission required?


Study this unit outside a degree

Non-award/non-degree study

If you wish to undertake one or more units of study (subjects) for your own interest but not towards a degree, you may enrol in single units as a non-award student.

Cross-institutional study

If you are from another Australian tertiary institution you may be permitted to underake cross-institutional study in one or more units of study at the University of Sydney.