Australian Soil Use & Management

The UNSW Australian Soil Use and Management (GEOS3721) course explores the wonders beneath our feet: the soil continuum. The soil continuum is the outermost layer of the earth, extending from the surface through various horizons to parent material.

This course aims to introduce and consolidate students’ knowledge in the discipline area of the science and management of soil in the Australian context.  Your study is supplemented by weekly laboratory classes and an intensive field trip to northern and northwest New South Wales.

The field trip focusses on aspects of how soil science has been used to increase soil organic matter and carbon in cotton farming systems. Moreover, issues associated with land and management with respect to irrigation water resources are explored. Previous visits have included a large Corporate (“Auscott”) cotton-growing farm and the Australian Cotton Research Institute.

Course Breakdown    

Part One

In the first part of the course, you’ll focus on Pedology, including soil formation and the branch of soil science dealing with soil genesis (i.e. factors and processes), morphology, classification and distribution. Students will gain hands-on experience in describing various soil profiles using qualitative morphological properties (e.g. colour, texture, structure, reaction, consistency and drainage).

Pedology helps in understanding the various soil forming factors and processes that have led to the development of different soil types in the Australian landscape. You’ll put invaluable diagnostic tools to practice in order to ascertain limitations and determine appropriate management strategies.

Part Two

In the second part of the course, you’ll study soil physics, chemistry and mineralogy. We focus on the complex mixture of rock fragments and minerals, soil structure and the movement of water and air through soil pores. Theoretical lectures and practical classes in the area of soil physics focus on soil as a three-phase system, a reservoir of water, infiltration and saturated hydraulic conductivity. 

Complimentary lectures and classes in soil chemistry concentrate on cation exchange capacity, nutrient cycling, acidification and soil salinisation. In all areas, practical aspects of managing soil degradation will be explored in the Australian context.

Part Three

The final part of the course introduces new methods of remote and proximal sensed data, which can be used to develop digital soil maps (DSM), for improved soil use and management. You’ll specifically study applications in electromagnetic induction, resistivity instrumentation and gamma-ray spectrometry. 

Numerical classification and modelling of these data sets are discussed and used to develop soil management classes and maps of soil attribute features and land suitability assessment, respectively.