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What is a Soil Scientist
A soil scientist is a person who is qualified to evaluate and interpret soils and soil-related data for the purpose of understanding soil resources as they contribute to not only agricultural production, but as they affect environmental quality and as they are managed for protection of human health and the environment. The university degree should be in Soil Science, or closely related field (i.e., natural resources, environmental science, earth science, etc.) and include sufficient soils-related course work so the Soil Scientist has a measurable level of understanding of the soil environment, including soil morphology and soil forming factors, soil chemistry, soil physics, and soil biology, and the dynamic interaction of these areas.
Classically, a "scientist" is one who is "learned" in a particular field. In Soil Science, the scientist does add to the body of knowledge, but in our new paradigm, the soil scientist is also the practitioner of the body of knowledge that is employed for making judgments and evaluations of the use of soil resources, or impact upon soil by cultural activities (e.g., land-use planning). University graduates with degrees in Soil Science have pursued careers in various basic and applied sciences, and are becoming prominent members of interdisciplinary groups that evaluate both natural resource management and environmental quality issues.
What does the soil scientist do?
Soil scientists are engaged in a variety of professional activities that involve direct applications of Soil Science knowledge. This work is often conducted in coordination with non-Soil Science professionals. Typically, the areas of activity include:
- Research of soil systems and soil management by public and private research institutions for the enhancement of soils knowledge.
- Management of soils for land enhancement such as in landscape design, mine reclamation, and site restoration.Evaluation and investigation of soils as they relate to natural resource management, including forest soils, wetlands, environmental endangerment assessments, ecological evaluations, and archeological sites.Assessment and investigation of soils for application of wastes in a variety of forms, including non-hazardous process wastes (residue and sludge management), and more distinct engineering and suitability of sites for on-site disposal of residential waste. Suitability studies for a variety of land development uses, including soil stability, moisture retention or drainage, sustainability, and environmental impact. Assessment and investigation of environmental hazards, including hazardous waste sites that involve soil investigation techniques, evaluation of chemical fate and transport phenomena, and suitable remediation alternatives.
- Regulation of the use of land and soil resources by private and public interests (government agencies).
- Management of soils for agricultural purposes, forest products and erosion control. Management includes modification of nutrient and water availability to plants.
These are some of the activities which soil scientists regularly practice. This work is most often conducted in coordination with other professionals with less training and knowledge of soil systems.
Why is there a need for recognition?
In modern professional practice, Soil Scientists are recognized only to a limited extent. Management of soils for protection of human affairs and the environment is often conducted by such licensed professionals as geologists and engineers who sometimes lack sufficient knowledge of soils. The opportunity for advancement of Soil Science in practice is often inhibited by those unable to recognize the application of Soil Science. Thus, the practice of Soil Science is often undertaken by individuals with a poor understanding of soils or soil processes. Soil scientists must be recognized as responsible, accountable professionals amidst other practitioners of science and engineering for the proper management and use of our soil resources. Such promotion will come primarily through the involvement of soil scientists in resource management decisions, certification, registration or licensing of soil scientists, and education of the general public and persons in other disciplines of science and engineering.
Students desiring to be ARCPACS (American Registry for Certified Professions in Soil Science - Federation of Certifying Boards in Agriculture, Biology, Earth and Environment Sciences) certified as a Soil Scientist, Specialist, or Classifier can take the Fundamentals of Soil Science and Professional Practice Examinations at the University of Wyoming.
Employment opportunities for Soil Science graduates
Most of our graduates are employed by universities, research institutions, mining industries, state or federal conservation services, consulting firms, and regulatory and land management agencies. The mining industry is one of the primary contributors to Wyoming's economy and has been a steady source of employment for our students. Entry level positions open regularly in the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality as people move up in that organization or move into the mining industry. Similarly, upward mobility will continue to create entry level positions with the federal land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Students who are willing to leave Wyoming have additional opportunities in surrounding states as County Soil Scientists, with Consulting and Reclamation companies, etc. The USDA Agricultural Research Service also hires Soil Science graduates in support staff positions (M.S. level) and research science positions (Ph.D. level). In the next 5 to 10 years this agency will have a significant part of their staff qualified for retirement.
At the University of Wyoming, several administrative units are involved in soils-related research and, to a lesser extent, teaching of Soil Science. These include the Wyoming Water Research Center, the Western Research Institute, the Departments of Botany, Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management, Civil/Environmental Engineering, Geography, Geology, Plant Science and Zoology. In particular, the mineralogy classes taught in Geology fill a significant complimentary role to the Soil Science offerings in the Renewable Resources Department. Soil Science faculty serve on graduate committees in all of the above mentioned departments. These interactions strengthen Soil Science education and research on campus; however, maintenance of the basic core curriculum and research must be borne by the Soil Science faculty within the Renewable Resources Department.
Soil Science includes the study of chemical, physical and biological properties of soils, as well as their spatial variability across the landscape. Areas of research, broadly grouped into Atmospheric, Biospheric, Lithospheric (Soils), and Hydrospheric, that the Soil Science Group has been involved in is included in Section VIII.