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 for students in the Faculty of Arts for fulfilling their science requirements and may serve as an elective for students in the Faculties of Land and Food Systems (LFS), Forestry, Science, or visiting students. In addition, this course is also appropriate for students with limited science background, who wish to improve their understanding of current global environmental issues to achieve active citizenship.

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)

  • Online discussion board – (20%)
    Students participate in bi-weekly asynchronous discussions on topics of high environmental and societal relevance. Instructor defines topics and leads the discussion by listing a series of key questions. The discussion is collaborative, with each student building on / adding perspective to previous posts. Grading is based on participation, relevance and accuracy of posts.
  • Midterm quiz (online) – (20%)
  • Current events journal – (20%)
    Each week students analyze news topic related to course contents. Sources for news events include newspapers, online news services, news magazine features, TV newscast / documentaries, radio, etc. Students briefly summarize the issue, give background and context, and critically review the news provider position and its treatment of the issue (depth, accuracy, objectivity).
  • Final exam (Invigilated) – (40%)
    Students must pass final exam to pass the course.


Daniel Hillel, Soil In The Environment: Crucible of Terrestrial Life. Academic Press. ISBN: 978-0-12-348536-6.

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