Plant and Environmental Sciences (M.S. and Ph.D.)
Soil science is the study of the earth’s skin. It includes (micro)biology, (bio)chemistry, soil physical and fertility properties, soil formation, and soil classification. Fundamental knowledge of soil science is imperative not only in agriculture, but also in natural resources management, environmental policy, and civil/environmental engineering. Soil is much more than just “dirt.” Soil is the ultimate natural resource for growing plants and crops. It is crucial for raising livestock, building the foundations of homes and recreational facilities such as golf courses and athletic fields. The ever-increasing world population could not possibly be sustained without soils. In any terrestrial environment, soils play five key roles.
First, soil supports the growth of higher plants, mainly by providing a medium for plant roots and supplying nutrient elements. Second, soil properties are the principal factor controlling the fate of water in the hydrologic system (e.g., water loss, utilization, contamination, and purification). Third, soil recycles organic residues (e.g., the waste products and dead bodies of plants and animals) to make them available for re-use by the next generation of life. Fourth, soils provide habitats for a myriad of living fauna and flora, from micron-sized microbes and fungi to macrofauna, such as arthropods and small mammals. Lastly, soil plays an important role as an engineering medium as it provides the foundation for virtually every road, airport, and house built.
Because of the complex biological, chemical, and physical nature of soils, soils play a significant role in ecology, agricultural practices (nutrient management to irrigation), industrial waste management, remediation strategies, restoration of wetlands, natural processes (runoff and erosion), along with urban and industrial land use.