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Soil Science|Ecosystem Science & Management

What is Soil Science

Soil is one of our most vital natural resources as it provides sustenance for plants, insects, and animals. Soil is a renewable resource but only in the long term. Under favorable environmental and geological conditions, a soil can evolve from bedrock in approximately 1000-1500 years. Under less favorable conditions, a soil may take tens of thousands of years to develop, if ever. For this reason it is preferable to maintain an existing soil rather than to try to recreate a squandered one.

Soil Science has long been related to the body of knowledge of the soil environment, i.e., its formation and the dynamic processes associated with it, and its application to agronomic practices. The knowledge of soils gained through research has been used by practitioners in such fields as engineering, biology, hydrology and geology. However, many practitioners of engineering and other sciences use Soil Science knowledge subjectively and seldom using the body of knowledge as a whole.

In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of the multiple role soils have in the quality of life. Soils are not only the resource on which we grow our food, but are also the media in which we dispose of our wastes, develop our recreational lands, support our environment, and on which we build our structures. Soil processes are integral in forming and regulating our natural environment, dictating how we develop land, influencing the distribution of people world wide, and governing where plants grow. Soils are also influential in filtering and modifying surface and ground waters, and facilitating the life cycle of growth, sustenance and decay. The importance of Soil Science information to natural resource management and environmental quality has been interpreted by engineers, geologists, bureaucrats and many others. Soil scientists endeavor to improve our understanding of the Earth's complex soil systems in order to preserve and efficiently utilize our soil resources.

The Future of Soil Science:

Soil Science is a discipline and science and must continue to expand beyond its traditional identification with agriculture as it becomes a full partner in the earth, ecological and environmental sciences. Dr. L.P. Wilding, former president of the Soil Science Society of America stated that "Soil Science is at a critical stage" (Geotimes, February, 1995). He emphasized the need to expand education for Soil Science students into areas such as waste recycling, soil and water quality, global climate change, soil stability, economic viability, and food security and safety. Change is currently taking place at universities across the nation as programs are being reorganized, department names are changing, and curricula are undergoing revitalization. The time has come for developing programs that cross disciplinary boundaries, encompass ecological principles, quantify soil diversity and quality, and enhance environmental protection.

A "futuring" session that took place at the 1994 International Congress of Soil Science identified the following Soil Science agenda for the 21st century.

  • Broaden Soil Science constituencies beyond traditional agricultural partners.
  • Expand the focus of Soil Science to include food security, food safety, ecosystem management, sustainability of the biosphere, environmental protection, and the urban environment
  • Enhance the fundamental knowledge of soil systems by a more holistic, interdisciplinary approach that is dynamic and process-oriented, e.g., soils as a CO2 sink in global climate change.
  • Identify early-warning systems of soil degradation so prevention may be substituted for remediation.
  • Establish soil quality as a key indicator of environmental health linking food, land, and people
  • Develop joint projects, continuing-education programs, and research methodologies among soil scientists from developed and developing countries
  • Make potential soil-science clientele aware of the products and expertise of the discipline

Existing university programs that support the Soil Science program

Agricultural Economics

Animal Science

  • Atmospheric Sciences
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Chemical/Petroleum Engineering
  • Civil/Architectural Engineering
  • Crop/Weed Science
  • Entomology
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Geography
  • Geology and Geophysics
  • Mathematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Range Ecology and Watershed Management
  • Statistics
  • Veterinary Science
  • Water Resources
  • Zoology


Other university facilities that support the Soil Science program

  • Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • Center for Information Transfer
  • Earth Sciences Center
  • Environmental Simulation Laboratory
  • Institute for Environment and Natural Resources Research and Policy Institute for Scientific Computation
  • Red Buttes Environmental Biology Laboratory Rocky Mountain Herbarium
  • School of Environment and Natural Resources Spatial Data and Visualization Center
  • W.G. Solheim Mycology Herbarium
  • Williams Botany Conservatory
  • Wyoming Water Resources Center


Most of our students pursue careers with federal land management or conservation agencies (i.e., Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Society), state and federal regulatory agencies (i.e., Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality), mining and oil companies, environmental consulting companies, or scientific research organizations.

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