#EGU15 – Day 3

So another day passes and lots more science has been seen. I think that this was one of my most interesting days of the week so far. After grabbing a coffee and a muffin to start me on my day, I headed to my first session. This was on the use of remote sensing for the measurement of soil moisture, which was absolutely fascinating. However, the many equations and algorithms used for processing satellite data didn’t agree with my brain at around 9am!

One interesting example however, was the SM2RAIN project, carried out by the research hydrology group at IRPI. They showed how in-situ measurements had been used to calibrate satellite derived soil moisture measurements – see graphs below.


Comparison of different soil moisture products by ASCAT, AMSR-E and SMOS and in situ measurements in Spain and Australia for the year 2010. (Click picture for link to source)

Then at 10.15 I headed over to the session on ‘Bringing Soil Science to the Field‘. This session was designed to give an overview of interantional teaching methods used to boost the teaching of in-field soil sciences. David Lindbo from NC State University kicked off by asking the question, is there a need for field-based instruction? To which he said yes there was. However, he provided an answer by considering a range of perspectives;

  • Consultants view – Current students book smart but lack field experience
  • Public Sector – Students work well independently but not as part of a team
  • Students – Lacking a view of ‘big picture’

Hopefully, this makes you aware that further field-based education and experience is therefore required. The courses that NC State champion leads students on a 7 day field course across a range of soil and topographical settings which helps to;

  • Teach field skills
  • Inspire group activity
  • Connections of soils, geology and geomorphology to historic and present land use

However, David concluded by saying that unlike Geology which have a compulsive fieldwork component, soil sciences are currently lacking this and so are perhaps not fully considered. However, practical field experience is vital for soil scientists otherwise we are risk at losing touch with the soils that we study.

Next up was John Quinton of Lancaster University, who discussed the situation of soil science field training in the UK. It was nice to see our own Cranfield getting a mention too (see picture below).

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The dispersal of UK soil science institutions

John pointed the audience to the British Society of Soil Sciences warmup videos that are available on youtube. I have embedded one in the blog to give you a flavour of their contents, the one below is apt as it discusses why the year 2015 has been dedicated as the International Year of Soils (#IYS2015). For more videos associated with BSSS, visit their YouTube channel.

John  also discussed the STARS (Soils Training and Research Studentships), in which once again Cranfield are involved. If you are thinking of undertaking a PhD in soil science, I recommend you check out the following STARS site.

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Onto the next talk, and although this didn’t follow John’s talk, it is heavily interlinked. Therefore, I will talk about it now. This talk was given by Cranfield University’s own Dr. Jacqueline Hannam – by the way, you can follow her on Twitter, @Dirt_Science. Jacq was discussing the courses, both 1 day and 5 day residential courses for professional and student soil scientists, which she has led, on behalf of BSSS. Incidentally, we wrote about one of these course, Dirt Science, in an earlier blog post.

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Jacq explained that BSSS are working to provide course attendees with soil science competencies which they can go on to apply in either their research or future career position. The courses also go beyond just the consideration of the topsoil, which was the focus of the other talks, and into the deeper subsoil. The discussion of soil pits was referred to, and Jacq reflected that digging a soil pit is not as easy as it looks, especially when you get attendees who have barely used a spade before!

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Jumping back to the previous talk, Lee Burras (Iowa State University) gave an overview of the field-based soil science courses on offer in Iowa, United States. Interestingly, and perhaps shamefully, Iowa has approximately 50 soil science courses in its offering; but only 5 of these had more than 1 hours field-based learning! Lee stressed that teaching of soil science purely in the classroom leads to the impression that there is little variability in soils, whereas in reality this is not the case. Lee stated that we need to get students outside, but when doing this we need to make the activity exciting to encourage further field-based activities. Overall though, it was encouraging to hear that in Iowa, soil science was extremely popular and that demand had exceeded supply; university seats are simply not available for all applicants!

After this session, and whilst strolling through the trade stands, I stumbled upon Google’s earth engine stand. Now, if like me, you hadn’t heard of Earth Engine, then make sure you check it out. As per usual, Google wows us with its technology. Essentially, Google’s Earth Engine is a collection of NASA/USGS Landsat imagery.Tools within the cloud-based program then let you undertake time-series analysis to, for example, show changes in deforestation or a meandering of a river channel. The YouTube video below provides an overview of the service.

In my last session of the day, I headed over to some talks on using crowdsourcing and citizen science for further understanding environmental problems.A good example provided was that of the European Space Agency (ESA) funded EducEO project. This attempts to use crowdsourcing as a means of validating satellite remotely-sensed data. One application is for agriculture and another for land-use mapping. I advise you to visit the EducEO site and have an explore, there is a lot to offer, and you can get involved yourself – I believe that there are also prizes to be won!


EducEO Pilot 1: Illustrative concept: harvester generated maps are used to validate Sentinel-1 data (Click on picture for source)

Once again, towards the end of the day I headed to the poster session. The EGU have kindly provided a limited ‘although quite a lot really’ amount of free drink including wine and beer. Anyway, anyone who knows geoscientists and especially geologists will know that they like their beer (see feature image) – so it was quite funny to see at dead-on 5pm a large group of people descending rapidly upon this!

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Soil Science Society of America outline their plans for the International Year of Soils 2015!


I popped off early from the poster session to work on my presentation for tomorrow! Anyway, more about that in the next post.

Until next time, auf widersehen!

Author: O. Pritchard

Feature Image: zazzle.co.nz