Thursday, August 21, 2008

Purdue University: Visualize Soils and Landscapes with GIS

Understanding how soils form in the field and vary across landscapes is a critical skill for today's agronomists; therefore, it is an integral component of the curricula at Purdue University in Indiana. Students use GIS in the classroom and in the field to better understand soils and landscapes and to recognize geologic features that indicate different soil types.

Soil Classification, Genesis, and Survey, a class cotaught by professors Darrell G. Schulze and Phillip R. Owens, incorporates the latest GIS software to study the relationships between soils, topography, land use, and geology. The teachers use GIS to share data with the students, who in turn use it to observe different points in the landscape. At the beginning of the class, most students know little about geography and GIS, but by the time they complete the course, they are able to access geographic data and view it with GIS tools.

Purdue is located in Tippecanoe County. In the western half of the county, a lot of the soils have been formed under prairie vegetation, giving them dark-colored surfaces. In the eastern half of the county, soils formed under forest vegetation and have a lighter color. The prairie soils tend to be slightly better for growing crops because they are higher in organic matter and, overall, the topsoil has better physical properties. Forested soils are more prone to crusting. This type of soil identification can help agronomists predict yield. These delineations are made obvious to students out in the field who can make map to reality comparisons.

Newly released data, map products, and models continue to advance with each new class. Schulze is currently working on an application in which students can click a polygon to query the attribute table as well as click a link that leads them to a schematic diagram of a soil profile that illustrates what the soil looks like below the surface.

For more information, contact Darrell Schulze, professor of soil science, Agronomy Department, Purdue University (e-mail:



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