Careers in Soil Science

In order to be a soil scientist, you need to know what one is: A soil scientist studies the upper few meters of the Earth’s crust in terms of its physical and chemical properties; distribution, genesis and morphology; and biological components. A soil scientist needs a strong background in the physical and biological sciences and mathematics. I went on the website of the Natural Resource Conservation Service and found out all this information about being a soil scientists.

In addition to knowing what a soil scientist is, you always have to know what soil science is: Soil science is the science dealing with soils as a natural resource on the surface of the Earth including soil formation, classification, and mapping; physical, chemical, biological, and fertility properties of soils; and these properties in relation to the use and management of the soils. Soils play multiple roles in the quality of life throughout the world. Soils are not only the resource for food production, but they are the support for our structures, the medium for waste disposal, they maintain our playgrounds, distribute and store water and nutrients, and support our environment. They support more life beneath their surface than exists above. They facilitate the life cycle of growth, sustenance and decay. They influence the worldwide distribution of plants, animals, and people.

A soil scientist needs good observation skills to be able to analyze and determine the characteristics of different types of soils. Soil types are complex and the geographical areas a soil scientist may survey are varied. Aerial photos or various satellite images are often used to research the areas. Computer skills and geographic information systems help the scientist to analyze the multiple facets of geomorphology, topography, vegetation, and climate to discover the patterns left on the landscape.

Soil scientists work in both the office and field. The work may require walking over rough and uneven land and using shovels and spades to gather samples or examine a soil pit exposure. They work in a variety of activities that apply soil science knowledge. This work is often done with non-soil science professionals. They also work for federal and state governments, universities, and the private sector. The job of a soil scientist includes collection of soil data, consultation, investigation, evaluation, interpretation, planning or inspection relating to soil science. This career includes many different assignments and involves making recommendations about many resource areas.

A soil scientist’s job may involve:

  • conducting general and detailed soil surveys
  • determining the hydric (wetness) characteristics of the soil
  • recommending soil management programs
  • helping to design hydrologic plans in suburban areas
  • monitoring the effects of farm, ranch, or forest activities on soil productivity

Most soil scientists have earned at least a bachelor degree from a major agricultural university. At many universities, two choices are available for specialized training in soils. The Soil Science option prepares students to enter the agricultural sector as farm advisors, crop consultants, soil and water conservationists, or as representatives of agricultural companies. The Environmental Soil Science option prepares soil scientists for careers in environmental positions dealing with water quality concerns, remediation of contaminants or for on-site evaluation of soil properties in construction, waste disposal, or recreational facilities.

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One Response to Careers in Soil Science

  1. lpg42010 says:

    Amy,
    I enjoyed reading your article. I thought it was very educational and that you incorporated much detail into it. I have to say this class makes me more interested in learning about the science of soil and how we come to influence its movement in the environment.

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