Soil Physics and Chemistry

Soil physics and chemistry involves analyzing the composition and properties of soil. Learn about degree program requirements, course topics, employment outlook statistics and salary information for this field.

Is Soil Physics and Chemistry for Me?

Career Summary

Soil physics and chemistry are two aspects of soil science, along with soil mineralogy and biology. If you pursue soil science, you may assess the relationships soil has with water, crops, fertilizer and human-induced erosion; examine the quality of soil; and determine which soils are best for environmental, agricultural and landscaping purposes. You may use chemical analysis to determine the makeup of different types of soil and develop soil conservation policies. Your knowledge of physics can inform others about drainage capabilities a soil or potential problems with building on a slope. Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs are available in soil science and environmental soil science.

Specializations

You can pursue a career as a soil scientist, or you might specifically seek a soil conservation scientist position, though the duties of these two positions overlap. To combine research with teaching responsibilities, you can take the academia career path. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to work in this field, you should know how to use and apply statistics, enjoy the outdoors, be a good communicator and have the ability to work independently or with a team (www.bls.gov).

The BLS reported that in 2013, about 18,590 people worked as conservation scientists, including soil and water conservation scientists, and 13,160 individuals worked as soil and plant scientists. Many government agencies hire soil scientists to analyze various soils and make policy recommendations regarding conservation and environmental issues.

Employment Outlook and Salary Statistics

The BLS projected that between 2012 and 2022, the employment of soil and plant scientists would increase by 9% and that of conservation scientists would grow 1%. As of May 2013, the median annual salary for conservation scientists was $61,220 and for soil scientists was $58,990. The BLS adds that employment in this field is relatively stable, even during periods of economic turbulence, because of a high priority for protecting the environment and soil resources.

How Can I Work in Soil Physics and Chemistry?

Undergraduate Education

To become a conservation scientist or a soil scientist, you must earn at least a bachelor's degree. A Bachelor of Science in Environmental Soil Science might be a good start. Your coursework may include studies of the ties between soil and water, landfill design, contaminants and the environmental constraints in soil sciences.

Graduate Studies

With a master's degree or a doctorate in soil science, you can carry out independent research as well as teach postsecondary classes in soil science. At the graduate level, you can choose soil chemistry or soil physics as your concentration area. Your classes may address soil classification, fertility, conservation, methods, plant genetics and soil pollutants. Many schools have on-campus facilities where you can participate in labs and gain practical experience working with soil and gathering data. Part of the requirements are carrying out research in the field and writing a master's thesis or a doctoral dissertation. With a focus on the chemistry and physics aspects of soil, you could investigate the effects of denitrification, thermodynamics in biogeochemical cycling or erosion control on steep slopes.

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