Geography/Geology 3710 – Spring 2014

Environmental Soil Science

Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Geosciences

Valdosta State University


Instructor: Dr. Donald M. Thieme               Meeting Times: 12:00-12:50 MWF Nevins 2075,

12:30-3:20 R Nevins 1051

Office: 2046 Nevins Hall                              Web Page:

Phone: 219-1345                                            E-Mail:

Office Hours: Office Hours: M W 10-12 or by appointment



Brady, N. C., and Weil, R. R., 2010, Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils. Pearson - Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.


Course Purpose and Overview

Soil is the interface between the four major spheres of Planet Earth: lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Soil science is thus inherently both environmental and inter-disciplinary. Whether or not you plan to pursue a scientific career or a line of work where you will be working with soil first hand, this course will provide you with essential knowledge and useful tools for understanding environmental processes that take place immediately beneath the Earth’s surface. Soil is the medium in which we grow the crops that feed all of the world’s people. We construct our houses, businesses, roadways, and landfills in soil, and soil serves as a filter helping to prevent contamination of ground and surface water. For all these reasons and more, students in geography, geology, and environmental science should have a fundamental understanding of the soil system. During this semester we will explore basic definitions and properties of soil, soil forming processes, soil classification, field and laboratory description and measurement, and some ways that soil information is used in geology and other scientific fields.


Course Content and Attendance

I will take attendance during the first few weeks of class, but that is primarily to get to know you. There will be no points awarded for attendance, but attendance at labs is mandatory and it will not be possible to make up those points after you miss a lab. In lecture, I will cover some material that is not in your book. Of the readings which are assigned, I will be highlighting topics which I feel are the most important. These should also be topics that inspire you when thinking about your term papers. At least one short (5-10 minute) class presentation will also be required of each of you at some point during the semester. My office hours are listed at the beginning of the syllabus. Although I have a busy schedule this semester, I should be able to set up other meeting times if my posted hours do not work for you. Feel free to stop by whenever I am in my office.



There will be three hour-long exams (100 points each) during the semester and a final exam (200 points) given at the course’s completion.  The final exam will include approximately 100 points of material covered after the third lecture exam and 100 points of comprehensive material.  Make up exams will only be given in the case of extreme circumstances.  Illness will only be considered a valid excuse for missing an exam if you can provide a doctor’s note stating that you were too ill to attend the test.


Four 30 point homework assignments will be given during the semester. All students will be required to write a 10-page term paper (100 points) and give at least one class presentation (20 points). There will be three possible options in terms of the topic and style of the term papers, and the criteria which I use in grading them will be slightly different. One option will be a geographic topic in which you describe soils characteristic of a region or locale. Another option will be to prepare a research design for a field or laboratory study of soil properties. Finally, you can choose to write about a general environmental problem, summarizing literature in soil science which pertains to that problem. I will be providing detailed guidance on each option before the end of January, and you will need to turn in a few sentences about your paper topic


Each of you will be required to attend at least one field trip during the semester. There will be a short written assignment for each trip, and you will earn a maximum of 50 points for your field trip participation and completion of the assignment. I will lead the first class fieldtrip on a Saturday in February or March. We will be describing floodplain and terrace soils of the Withlacoochee River. If you must miss that fieldtrip, or if you want to earn a maximum of 50 points of extra credit, you can attend one of the fieldtrips for geology classes. These will be posted here after the end of the first week of class.


The laboratory section of GEOL 3710 is required of all students. There will be 14 lab exercises completed during the semester, and the lab write-ups will always be due one week after the lab has been completed. At 15 points each, the 14 exercises will be worth 210 points total. Late labs will be deducted 10% per day late.


A total of 1000 points will be possible during the course of the semester (500 lecture tests, 100 term paper, 20 presentation, 120 homework, 50 field trip, 210 labs). Final grades will be based on the following scale:





90 – 100

80 – 90

70 – 80

60 – 70

< 60





< 600






Disability Policy

Students requiring classroom accommodations or modifications because of a documented disability should discuss this with me so we can make reasonable accommodations. If you have not yet done so, you should also contact the Special Services Program located in Room 1115 Nevins Hall and register with them.


Plagiarism and Cheating

Students are allowed to work in groups on labs, but other assignments are individual assignments. Any student who copies, plagiarizes, or otherwise cheats on an individual assignment will be given a zero for that assignment. There will be no exceptions and no opportunity to re-do the assignment.


Tentative Lecture Schedule and Readings: All Readings are in Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils. Pearson - Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.




Topics and Important Dates



January 13-17

Definition of Soil, Soil as Interface,

Soil Profile and Horizons, Mineral Constituents


B&W, p. 1-26


January 20-24

January 20th ML King Day, no school

Soil Formation and Pedogenic Processes


B&W, p. 27-52


January 27-31

Soil Morphology and Classification

HW #1 assigned


B&W, p. 52-82


February 3-7

Soil Physical Properties

Exam #1 February 5th


B&W, p. 96-131


February 10-14

Hydrologic Cycle, Soil Water

Term Paper Title due Feb 12th


B&W, p. 132-182


February 17-21

Soil Aeration and Temperature

HW #1 due February 21st


B&W, p. 201-234


February 24-28

Weathering, Soil Minerals, Colloids

HW #2 assigned


B&W, p. 235-247


March 3-7

Soil Acidity, Chemical Mass Balance,

Oxidation and Reduction

Term Paper Outline due March 5th

B&W, p. 205-208

B&W, p. 269-298


March 10-14

Cation Exchange Capacity

Exam #2 March 12th


B&W, p. 248-268

March 15-23

Spring Break!



March 24-28

Soil Organisms and Ecology

HW #2 due March 24th

B&W, p. 322-360


Mar 31 – April 4

Soil Organic Matter

HW #3 assigned


B&W, p. 361-395


April 7-11

Soil Erosion, Residual Soils, Paleosols

HW #3 due April 9th


B&W, p. 499-534


April 14-18

Soil Nitrogen, Soil Phosphorus

Exam #3, April 16th


B&W, p. 396-454


April 21-25

Soil Mapping, Remote Sensing, GPS

HW#4 assigned


B&W, p. 83-95


Apr 28 – May 5

Soils and Chemical Pollution

HW #4 and Term paper due May 2nd


B&W, p. 535-565

May 8

FINAL EXAM @ 12:30-2:30 PM

Nevins 2075