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 judgements 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.

Existing university programs that support the Soil Science program

Agricultural Economics
Animal Science
Atmospheric Sciences
Chemical/Petroleum Engineering
Civil/Architectural Engineering
Crop/Weed Science
Environmental Engineering
Geology and Geophysics
Molecular Biology
Range Ecology and Watershed Management
Veterinary Science
Water Resources

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


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. RESOURCES

Faculty and staff

Current faculty and staff participating in the Soil Science degree program.

(UW Faculty since)

Rank (Title and Degree)


R.P. Kelli Belden
Director, Soil Testing Laboratory, M.S.

Dr. Larry C. Munn
Professor of Soil Pedology/Geographic Information Systems, Ph.D.

Dr. Katta J. Reddy
adjunct since 1990
Senior Research Scientist Wyoming Water Resources Center, Ph.D.

Dr. Gerald E. Schuman
adjunct since 1982
Director, USDA-ARS High Plains Grasslands Research Station, Ph.D.

Dr. Peter D. Stahl
Temporary Assistant Professor of Soil Environmental Microbiology, Ph.D.

Dr. George F. Vance
Associate Professor of Soil and Environmental Chemistry, Ph.D.

Dr. Stephen E. Williams
Professor of Soil Microbiology, Ph.D.

Dr. Renduo Zhang
Assistant Professor of Soil and Water Physics, Ph.D. 100%

aR.P. Kelli Belden is the instructor for the Soil Fertility and Plant Nutrition course offered
every other year and has co-taught the Analytical Methods for Ecosystems Research. She
also contributes to graduate student research activities by assisting in the development
and direction of various analytical procedures.
bDr. Katta J. Reddy is the instructor for the Chemistry and Remediation of Environmental
Contaminants course that is taught on a yearly basis. He has advised and co-advised
many Soil Science graduate students and has served on several graduate student
cDr. Gerald E. Schuman has been an adjunct professor of Soil Science for 15 years. He has
advised and co-advised several Soil Science graduate students and has served on many
graduate committees. Dr. Schuman has presented numerous guest lectures on Soil and
Environmental Science issues.

Support staff, university and non-university assistance

Dr. Patricia Colberg - Soil Microbial Ecology
Dr. Tim Drever - Geochemistry and Clay Mineralogy
Dr. Carrick Eggleston - Surface Chemistry
Dr. Dennis Knight - Ecologist
Dr. Terry H. Brown - Senior Research Scientist, Western Research Institute
Dr. Anna J. Krzyszowska - Post-Doctoral Research Scientist
Timothy L. Brewer - Soil Science Research Associate
Richard D. Allen, Environmental Engineer, Weston Groundwater Engineering
Brenda K. Schladweiler - Owner, BKS Environmental, Inc.
Lowell K. Spackman - Principal Analyst/Soil Scientist, Wyoming Department of
Environmental Quality, Land Quality Division

Soil Science graduate students also are assisted by the many Post-Doctoral Scientists and
Visiting Scientists who have participated in Soil Science Group activities over the

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.

Summary and Conclusions

The Soil Science graduate degree program at the University of Wyoming has broad appeal
and considerable relevance to graduate students (local, regional, national and international),
state and federal agencies as well as to private industry. The Soil Science degree program
follows a national trend in the expansion of the domain of soil scientists from traditional
production agriculture into broad natural resource issues, and enhances diversity among our
students. Our Soil Science graduate degree program with an emphasis in environmental
science and natural resource management has had a significant positive impact on research
activities in the department, college and university. The Soil Science degree program would
reinforce their identity and enhance their professional opportunities.

The Soil Science graduate program provides a quality educational and research experience
for students enrolled in the program. Class sizes in graduate level Soil Science courses
typically range from 10 to 35 students. Active research programs by all of the Soil Science
teaching/research faculty ensures that students are exposed to cutting edge ideas and
technology. One Soil Science faculty (Munn) recently received the Ellbogen Award for
Meritorious Classroom teaching; all Soil Science faculty are committed to student education
and research activities. Soil Science courses are regularly taken by students from other
programs in the College of Agriculture. In addition, students from many other disciplines on
campus also take Soil Science courses, e.g. Botany, Geology, Engineering, Geography,
Range Management, Zoology (Wildlife Management). Recently added courses in
Geostatistics and Modeling Transport in Soil and Groundwater Systems have also attracted
students from Mathematics and Statistics.

The number of graduate student committees that Soil Science faculty serve on attests to their
importance, both in the subject matter and quality of advising. Department/program graduate
student committees that Soil Science faculty are members include:
Atmospheric Sciences
Chemical/Petroleum Engineering
Civil/Architectural Engineering
Environmental Engineering
Geology and Geophysics
Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management Sociology
Water Resources Option Degrees
Zoology and Physiology

Nationally, career opportunities for graduates in Soil Science have expanded. Programs offering degrees in Soil Science have increased, and are often grouped with other Natural Resource Management disciplines (e.g., Natural Resources, Renewable Resources, Environmental Science, Forestry). Graduate students have been trained in Soil Science for decades at the University of Wyoming.


Major Research Areas


Global Climate Change
i) Climate Reconstruction
Wyoming Pleistocene Permafrost Environments Stable Isotopes of C and O as Indicators of Past Climates ii) CO2
Grazing Lands
CRP Land/Carbon Dynamics
Fossil Fuel Emissions
iii) Organic Matter Formation and Decomposition iv) Organic Nutrient Cycling
Acidic Deposition
Long-Term Effects on C, N, P, and S Cycling Climatic Conditions
Zuni Indians
Mongolian Steppe
Volatilization of:
Organic Chemicals (BTEX, Pesticides)
Selenium Compounds
Evapotranspiration Processes
Spatial and Temperate Distributions of Precipitation


Nutrient Bioavailability (C, N, and P)
i) Crop Production
Navy Beans
ii) Rangeland Ecosystems
Crop Quality
Plant Nutrition
Nutrient Balance (N-P-Zn and N-Zn Interactions) Trace Element Bioavailability (As, Cr, Cd, Cu, Mo, Se, and Zn)
Sewage Sludge, Manure, and Phosphogypsum Rangelands
Rangeland Vegetation (Grasses, Forbs and Shrubs) Acid Soils from Acid Mine Drainage
Plant - Mycorrhizae Associations
Western Fringed Orchid
Water and Nutrient Uptake by Plants
Rangeland Ecosystems
Nutrient Cycling
Grazing Effects
Forest Ecosystems
Nutrient Cycling
Reconstruction of Past Agricultural Practices

Lithosphere (Soils)

Physical, Chemical, and Biological Properties of Soils Classification and Genesis of Wyoming Soils Biogeochemical Processes
i) Sorption/Desorption
Organic Chemicals (Hazardous OC, BTEX, Pesticides) Selenium
ii) Precipitation/Dissolution
Selenium and Molybedum Solid Phases
Heavy Metal Solubility in Acid Soils
Mobility and Fate of Nitrate and Pesticides (Dicamba, Picloram, Atrazine)
Soil Sustainability/Soil Quality
Carbon and Nitrogen Cycling and Balances (CRP lands) Grazing Effects
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Soil Characterization Spatial Variability and Heterogeneity of Soil Constituents
Geostatistical Applications
Soil Heat Transfer
Water Flow and Solute Transport in Porous Media Chemistry and Bioavailability of Waste Constituents
i) Sewage Sludge and Sludge/Cement Kiln Dust Amendments
Trace Element Accumulations (Cd, Cu, Mo, Ni, Se, Zn) Enhanced Water Holding Capacity
ii) Municipal Solid Waste Composts
Soil Fertility
Soil Nitrogen Sampling (Diagnostics)
Phosphorus Fixation
Vadose Zone Hydrology
Soil-Plant-Atmosphere Continuum (SPAC)Ssystems Mine Land Revegetation/Reclamation
Reestablishment of Sagebrush (Wildlife)
Playa Reconstruction
Selective Handling of Topsoil Materials
Sodic Mine Spoils
Selenium and Molybedum
Use of Polyacrylamide Polymers for Enhancing the Water Holding Capacity of Soils


Effects of Acid Deposition on Surface Water Quality
Natural Organic Compounds
Groundwater Contamination
Hazardous Organic Chemicals
Water Hazard Potentials of Waste Constituents
N, P, As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Se, Zn
Water Quality
N-Placement to Reduce Leaching
In-situ Remediation of Contaminants
Utilization of Wastes on Rangelands
Surface and Ground Water Selenium
Solute Movement and Fate
Saturated and Unsaturated Flow
GIS Predictions for Nitrate Leaching Potentials Acid Mine Drainage
Trace Elements in Surface Waters
Rainfall Simulation on Surface Runoff/Infiltration and Erosion
Grazing Effects

NOTE: Many of the Research Areas Described above are Interrelated