APBI 100 (3 cr): Soil and the Global Environment


Course Description

The course will provide an overview of core principles in soil and environmental science and challenges students to integrate knowledge to understand key issues related to soils and the global environment.

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Intended Students

This course is intended primarily for students with a limited science background, who wish to improve their science literacy and understanding of current global environmental issues to achieve active citizenship. It is open to all students with a general interest in soil and current environmental issues. The course may serve as an elective for students in the Faculties of Land and Food Systems, Forestry, Science, Arts, visiting students or professionals seeking continuing education who are interested in exploring the linkage between soil science, environment and society. This course provides an overview of core principles in soil and environmental sciences, and challenges students to integrate knowledge to understand key environmental issues.

Course Content (subject to change)

Unit 1: Week 1-2

Introduction: soil in art and world’s cultures
Environmental literacy and basic soil concepts

  • What is soil? (Hands on exercise: the soil of your neighbourhood)
  • The Earth’s critical zone
  • Soil horizons (A, B, C)
  • Soil components

Unit 2: Week 3-6

Global soil quality as affected by human activities

  • Soil erosion
  • Worldwide significance
  • Rates of soil formation contrasted with rates of soil erosion
  • Innovations in soil conservation and erosion prevention strategies
  • Land degradation and remediation
  • Salinization: impacts, causes (e.g., irrigation, sea level rise and saltwater intrusions), prevention and remediation strategies
  • Mining: impacts (e.g., acid mine drainage), remediation (e.g., phytoremediation)
  • Urban pollution (debate: growing healthy food in the polluted city)

Unit 4: Week 7-8

Soil and climate change

  • Soil carbon (C) stocks: a determinant of global warming
  • What is soil C?
  • The C cycle
  • Land use and soil C stocks (e.g., current afforestation efforts)
  • The effects of climate change on soil
  • Soil moisture and temperature
  • Desertification
  • Indirect effects (e.g., mountain pine beetle outbreaks)
  • Feedback loops (e.g., permafrost melting)

Unit 5: Week 9-10

Soil and water resources

  • The interconnection of soil and water quality
  • Concepts in watershed management
  • Land use planning for water resources
  • Wetland soils

Unit 6: Week 11-12

Soil, food, fibre, and biofuel production

  • Soil and food security
  • Determinants of soil productivity
  • Soil capability classes and land use planning (debate: the future of the agricultural land reserve)
  • Food security and international development
  • Soil and food safety
  • Food contaminants
  • Pesticides in soil, water, and food (debate topic: potential good and bad of genetically modified organisms; debate topic: the future of conventional, conservation and organic farming)
  • Biofuel production
  • What is a biofuel?
  • Current and new ethanol sources (debate: constrains on sustainable biofuel production)

Conclusion: Week 13


  • Soil as the essential media for the planet’s primary production
  • Soil as the base of the ecosystem services pyramid
  • Strategies for sustaining our soil resources: interactions at the local, national, and global scales

Evaluation (approximate and subject to change)

Assessment will be based on written work and student participation, as follows:

  1. Online discussion board (15%)
  2. Midterm exams (20%)
  3. Assignments (25%)
  4. Final exam (40%) The grading system is numeric. All reports should be handed in on time and 10% mark subtraction per day may be applied to late submissions.