“The Global Soil Partnership is dedicating World Soil Day 2017 to the theme “Caring for the Planet starts from the Ground“. Soil is a finite natural resource. On a human time-scale it is non-renewable. However, despite the essential role that soil plays in human livelihoods, there is a worldwide increase in degradation of soil resources due to inappropriate management practices, population pressure driving unsustainable intensification and inadequate governance over this essential resource.” – FAO 2017
To celebrate, here are some photos of Lincoln University Soil Students getting involved in soil science! Get your hands dirty and see what secrets your soils hold!
The day started out like any other, up at 6am, breakfast, coffee, coffee, coffee and then all tumble into the van. By the time we got to the meeting point on the University Campus in Toowoomba we were all pretty much awake. Awake enough to take a few pre-competition selfies! The teams were looking pretty snazzy in their green competition shirts, with the “Bedrockers” and “50 Shades of Greywacke” printed across the back.
As a small prelude before we get into the competition details I would just like to refer back to one of the Blog’s previous Soil Judging Articles written by Carol Smith, Lincoln University and Sam Carrick, Landcare Research, Lincoln (read full article here).
“Soil judging has a long and distinguished history in North America; first initiated in 1961 and held annually at a different host institution each year. In North America, soil judging is taken very seriously and is seen as a key component of the soil science curriculum and an important part of the graduate attributes of all soil science graduates. There is stiff competition to be selected into the soil judging team, and team members train weekly during the competition season.
But what exactly IS soil judging and why should we care about it here in New Zealand? There is certainly more to soil judging than just “pedology by stealth”. We would all agree it is advantageous for every soil science graduate to be able to describe a soil at a basic level and from this, to make some interpretations therein: whether for land use, fertiliser recommendations, nutrient fluxes, irrigation scheduling or waste disposal.
We teach soil science in a changing world. Students who study soil science increasingly do so as part of other allied disciplines like agronomy, environmental science, horticulture; and often at an introductory level. But there is also an increasing need internationally for graduates with soil science expertise. A wide-ranging study of teaching soil science around the globe found that the initial focus of soil science teaching is geared towards capturing the attention of the student, and is then followed by courses that deepen that knowledge (Hartemink et al., 2014). Moreover, these global studies have shown that a field component remains vital in our soil science teaching – both at the introductory and advanced levels. Students like learning in the field; it helps them to comprehend soils as not only part of the landscape but also part of a functioning ecosystem. In the field, there is more time to think and to interact with staff so that learning occurs at a deeper level. In a study of graduates who had majored in soil science (as part of a larger study of soil science specific teaching principles) the most effective learning activities reported were: field work (43%), laboratories (36%), tutorials/group discussions (11%), followed by lectures (8%), presentations/assessments (7%) and writing reports (5%) (Field et al., 2011). Clearly, field based learning can only help students in their soil science studies.“
Competition Day of the 5th National Australian Soil Judging Competition, all teams were loaded onto a bus and taken to an undisclosed location. Two soil pits for the teams and one for the individual competition.
The bus ride there was surprisingly quiet, the soil puns and witty comments of the last few days weren’t forth-coming. Everyone was preparing mentally for the challenge ahead.
Biggsy gave us a run down of the day and we were put into groups to rotate around the three pits. The day was windy but the sun was out, soon becoming a scorcher and giving the water spray bottles another purpose; they make great face misters.
First rotation of the day, Team “50 Shades of Greywacke” started at the individual pit where Josh Nelson, Verina Telling and Irene Setiawan competed, while team “Bedrockers” were at Pit #2 of the team soil pits.
The clock started and the count down was on, 90 minutes to complete a full soil description. Thanks to the practice over the last few months and especially the two practice days, we felt confident with completing the description within the allocated time. Teams swapped, 5 minutes in, 5 minutes out for the first 20 minutes, then 10 minutes in 10 minutes out, with the last 30 minutes being free entry for any team.
Bedrockers were out for the first 5 minutes so the focus was on the surrounding land-forms, slope and surface condition an coarse fragments. A bit of entertainment was provided by one of the boys as he was looking at the soil surface condition surrounding the pit, promptly running back over to the tent after jumping a couple of foot into the air when he came across something rustling in the grass.
For the first 5 minutes in the soil pit, the focus was on defining horizons and boundaries so that the team “texturers” could get the samples to work into a good texturing bolus. Over the last two days we had been working hard to calibrate our fingers to the high clay content soil textures of Australian soils, lucky to find anything with less than 30% clay.
After filling out all the components of the score-sheet with 20 minutes to spare, we all descended into the soil pit to discuss all the aspects of our description, to confirm as a team that we were happy with our decisions. Thumbs up all round and we were ready for the next challenge.
Something that was noted by all through out the day was how much we had learnt over the last couple of practice days. Hands on exposure to new exciting Australian soils and how much they contrast to New Zealand. The knowledge we gained from the very helpful and encouraging organisers was absolutely priceless.
The other teams returned from completing the individual pits and we were up. Having not entered in the individual pits competition at registration we were offered the chance to give it a go 5 minutes before it started. Camilla Gardiner and I (Sephrah Rayner) took this opportunity, even through all the practice had been focused on team work, it was worth a shot.
The individual competition was structured much the same as the team pits but all the components of the description were completed by one person. Sorting out our gear we jumped straight into it, juggling books, geo-picks, texturing bolus and petri dishes of dispersing samples, the 90 minutes flew by! I don’t understanding how timing 5 minute and then 10 minute intervals makes 90 minutes seem so short!
Coming out of the individual pit on our way back to lunch, an then the last pit of the day, we were slightly dubious as to the quality of our descriptions. The heat had also started getting to us, Camilla having cooked herself in the sun while contemplating all her texture samples one arm clearly much pinker in colour than the other.
Meanwhile “50 Shades of Greywacke” were completing their first team pit, with both teams off to complete their 2 and final team pit after lunch. Lunch break could have been a competition in itself, “how many people can you fit under 2 gazebos?”. Apparently competition day was the hottest day in September on record since the 1930s and we were definitely feeling it.
The final pit of the day was the most challenging as everyone was getting hot and tired by this stage. There was going to be a group discussion of the pits at the end of the day but due to the temperature this was called off and we all happily climbed back onto the air-conditioned bus to head back to Toowoomba. What a day.
Prize giving was held that evening, where everyone got to enjoy a well deserved cold beverage or two. While the New Zealand teams didn’t place in the team competition we did in the Individual competition! Camilla Gardiner taking out 1st place! Josh Nelson getting 3rd and Verina Telling getting 4th (6th in the ranking, but next after 3rd is 4th place still right?!)! Well done!
Congratulations to everyone who competed this year!
The University of Sydney
Team South Australia
As noted at the NZ competition last year by Chris Baxter of University Wisconsin-Platteville that in his experience, these soil judging competitions do encourage students into the discipline: the tactile and investigative side of soil judging is something that many students can excel in and the competition aspect makes it a fun activity. It engages their curiosity to learn more about soils, and it is a powerful recruiter to University soils courses and degree programmes.
We look forward to the next one! and what a line up there is! Next year there’s not just one, but potentially three competitions! The first in Brasil at the International Congress in Rio, then hopefully one in New Zealand at the New Zealand Soil Science Conference then one in Canberra, Australia!
Comradery, companionship and competition! the perfect combination, all that and ‘expanding your horizons’ with great soils knowledge. Soil Judging is indeed the new NBA!
Expand your horizons, dig deeper!
Thanks once again to our sponsors who made this possible and all of the team that put the event together in Australia. New Zealand Sponsors were: FAR, Landcare Research, Ravensdown, NZ Society of Soil Science, Centre for Soil and Environmental Research, LRS and Lincoln University.
Main Research Areas: Paleoclimate. Land-reclamation. Pedology.
Carol is originally from the UK, growing up in South-East England, before moving to New Zealand in 1993. She completed a BSc. (Hons) in geographical science at Portsmouth, followed by a MSc in pedology and soil survey at Reading and then a PhD in soil science at Aberdeen.
Paleoclimate – a climate prevalent at a particular time in the geological past.
Pedology – the study of soils in their natural environment. The scientific study of soils and their weathering profiles.
It was her undergraduate focus on geomorphology, pedology, combined with micro-morphology while at Reading, that got her into the area of research she follows today. “The paleoclimate record in soils and landscapes is relevant to our understanding of the extent of past climate change; it offers a point of reference to computer models of future climate”. Carol is also passionate about land rehabilitation and the opportunities that using recycled organic materials can have on improving soil quality.
“Looking at New Zealand’s past climate through soils is very exciting.”
Carol started at Lincoln University as a tutor alongside the legendary Phil Tokin in 1993. Following a move to Sydney in 1997 with her young family and a stint in the private sector as an environmental consultant, she returned to Lincoln in 2005 as a lecturer in soil science. She was appointed to her present role as HoD in 2017. Carol’s inspiration in this role is being able to work with people and help them do their job to the best of their ability; whether that is through teaching, research or university management.
“It’s all about the people – the staff and students in the Soil Department; we all work together as a good team. We are small enough to know each other and we also have a few adventures along the way.”
In her down time Carol makes the most of the outdoors, seeking a balance between a busy work week and active relaxation on the weekends, when she can be found hitting the Port Hills on her bike. Skiing and tramping are also favourites when the seasons allow, as well as catching up with her two young adult children (when they’re not asking for money or to borrow the car). “Exploring NZ, all those hidden, beautiful corners.”
Main Research Areas: Phosphorus. Micro-organisms. Chronosequences.
Leo grew up in Glasgow, Scotland. After completing a Bachelor of Science with Honours at the University of Glasgow he moved to New Zealand to further his education at Lincoln University. 1980 – 1984, PhD in Soil Science at Lincoln. Reaching for the highest possible qualification, Leo also completed a Doctor of Science in Soil Science at Canterbury. Returning to Lincoln in 1989 he’s never left, and is now a Professor of Biogeochemistry; 50% research (including PG supervision), 30% teaching, 20% admin.
Why soil science? “My father was a farmer, I always had an interest in Agriculture and while doing my degree I developed a greater interest in soil science.” Working at Lincoln University has allowed for Leo to focus on one area of research for more than 30 years, meaning that he has been able to continue to develop it. ‘It’ being phosphorus, or a combination of all his passions; phosphorus, micro-organisms and chronosquences where possible. This is what keeps him going, having never lost interest in it or agriculture.
Continuity is Leo’s favourite thing about the Soil’s Department at Lincoln. The Lincoln University Soil Science Department has been able to sustain the continuity of research even though there has been a lot of changes, allowing for a coherent department that is great to work in. Maintaining this number of Soil Scientists together has been really lucky, “There is no other group of soil scientists this big in the world that I know of.”
Outside of University Leo’s time is taken up being a father to three kids and some tropical fish. Also enjoying music, Cuban cigars and a good bottle of Bourbon whiskey.
D.Sc. University of Canterbury, New Zealand. 2016.
‘Biogeochemistry of Phosphorus in Soil-Plant Systems’
Ph.D. Soil Science. Lincoln College (University of Canterbury), New Zealand. 1986.
‘Chemical nature and plant availability of phosphorus present in soils under long-term fertilised irrigated pastures in Canterbury, New Zealand’
B.Sc. Honours (II i). Agricultural Chemistry. University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK. 1980.
Research Profile: Biogeochemistry of organic carbon and major nutrients in natural and managed ecosystems, with an emphasis on the nature, dynamics and bioavailability of organic and mineral forms of nutrients in the soil-plant system in relation to soil management and land use. Project areas include organic matter and nutrient dynamics in grassland and forest soils, soil chronosequence dynamics, rhizosphere processes and nutrient acquisition, relationships between soil microbial diversity and function, and the nature, and the bioavailability and mobility of phosphorus in terrestrial environments.
Main Research Areas: Green House Gases (GHG), Nitrogen (N) and Carbon (C).
Lincoln University has been lucky enough to have Tim here for 20 years! Tim’s enthusiasm for research and teaching in soil science hasn’t waned, saying “there’s no ground hog days, it’s always different, there’s variety and it’s very interesting. The discovery of new findings keeps me going.”
Tim is a Christchurch man, born and breed in Canterbury. After working on a Sheep station one summer he was inspired to go to Lincoln University, where he pursed a degree in Agricultural Science. Completing a BAgSc with Honours he went to work at MAF in Hamilton, before returning to Lincoln for a PhD in Soil Science. Tim’s PhD research looked at “Bovine Urine N in Peat Soils”, this lead onto nitrous oxide and where he is today, specialising in GHGs.
Tim’s role at Lincoln University includes scientific research, teaching and postgraduate supervision. The things that stand out for Tim about working in Lincoln University Soil Science Department are; the open door policy, collegiality and the expertise within the department. “We’re world leading in some of the work we do. When I came to Lincoln, you’d heard of the guys who worked here, they were well known for what they were achieving on the world stage.”
‘Collegial – an adjective describing a work environment where responsibility and authority is shared equally by colleagues. You know you work in a collegial environment when your co-workers smile at you, and you don’t have to hide from your supervisor.’
When he’s not hard at work at Lincoln University unearthing new scientific discoveries, teaching young minds and supervising postgrads, Tim enjoys the outdoors. Spending his down time; tramping, fishing, swimming and biking, also enjoying his music, having played saxophone. Who knows how he fits it all in!
How we talk about science is as important as the science itself. This research is ground-breaking stuff, positive and full of potential to provide ways of dealing with our nations environmental challenges. So why do we label articles like this with potentially misleading catch phrases? How has something so important been turned into click bait and tainted with, let’s hope, unconscious bias?
So, lets look at the exciting stuff – the science!
Dr. Gwen Grelet and Dr. David Whitehead are the lead researchers in this study, examining bacteria and fungi at depth in the soil. They will be trying to identify which parts of the microbes’ genes control the soil nitrogen processes – nitrification and denitrification, that may provide the key to keeping nitrate from reaching waterways and aquifers.
“The Landcare Research science team – in collaboration with Lincoln University, Plant & Food Research and Scion – believe they’re doing something no-one else in the science community has dared to do. Something big.
What sets this experiment apart is the size of the samples and the impressive-looking 10-tonne drilling rig. McMillan Drilling group designed a custom-made drilling head to plunge sterilised PVC pipes into stony Canterbury soils to a depth of 1.7 m. The samples extracted weigh about 100kg.” – stuff.co.nz