Soil Scientist

Research and Development

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Clerical or OrganisingScientific or AnalyticSkill Level 5

Soil scientists specialise in studying the properties of soil and soil health. Future Growth Strong

This usually involves investigating the soil conditions of a range of sites, collecting and analysing samples, and reporting findings.

They classify the properties of the soil, assess the soil fertility, check for contamination, and also look at the relationship between soil and plant growth. Their work can inform the management of crop production, erosion control, mine-site restoration, pollution reduction and land management.

Knowledge, skills and attributes

A soil scientist needs:

  • to have good critical thinking and analytical skills

  • good problem solving skills

  • strong written and verbal communication skills

  • to have a high attention to detail

  • to enjoy working outdoors

  • to be able to work independently and as part of a team.

Duties and Tasks

  • Studies origins, composition and distribution of soils and the materials from which soils are formed.
  • Investigates effect of land use practices on soil.
  • Analyses soil for elements and develops methods for altering soil characteristics to suit different plants.
  • Plans and co-ordinates management practices for the control of soil degradation due to erosion, cultivation, excess water or salinity.
  • Advises on moisture conservation, irrigation and drainage.
  • Advises on suitability of soil use for cropping, horticulture, pasture, forestry and alternative systems of land use, including waste disposal.
  • Advises on use of soil for engineering purposes and on restoration of soil following massive disturbances through mining and other exploitative operations.

Working conditions

Soil scientists divide their time between working in a laboratory, researching and analysing samples, and spending time surveying out in the field. They may be required to work long hours, and the fieldwork can be physically demanding. Soil scientists may be required to undertake project-related travel.

In Australia, soil scientists may work for science organisations, government departments or consultancy companies.

Tools and technologies

​Soil scientists use a range of specialised machinery and equipment to collect and analyse soil, including soil samplers, sieves, probes, augers and core cutters. They also use computers and standard laboratory equipment, such as microscopes and measuring devices, to analyse the chemical composition and properties of the soil.

Education and training/entrance requirements

To become a soil scientist you usually need to complete a science degree majoring in agricultural science, environmental science, biological sciences or a related field.

 

Did You Know? 

Nitrogen Cycle

Ammonification: Bacteria or fungi convert organic forms of nitrogen (mostly from plant and animal waste) into ammonium NH4+, which can be used by plants.

Assimilation: Living organisms take up nitrogen to be used for biological processes such as making chlorophyll, proteins and enzymes.

Denitrification: Under poor aeration, soil bacteria convert nitrate ions into nitrogen gas which cannot be used by plants and is lost to the atmosphere.

Fixation: Bacteria convert nitrogen gas into ammonium or nitrate that living organisms can assimilate. Rhizobium bacteria have the unique ability to fix nitrogen through metabolic processes. These bacteria form symbiotic relationships with plants in the legume family. (Source: Learn About Ag)

 

Read about the role of nitrogen in climate change

The conversation
The Conversation 5 December 2016


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