The Dirty Truth About Soils

Soils are one of the most important natural resources on this planet. By supporting life and cycling water, carbon, and other essential elements, soils help drive important Earth systems and support human civilizations. 


In this lesson, students will delve into the world of soil science by collecting their own soil cores and analyzing the cores for water, organic matter, and total carbon content by soil strata. Students will learn how soils link many of Earth’s systems including the biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere and how soils can tell scientists a lot about a location’s natural history and climate. 

Lesson Components

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Science Standards

The following Next Generation Science Standards are addressed by this unit. 

  • HS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
    • –4: Using mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem.
    • –5: Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.
  • HS-ESS2 Earth’s Systems
    • -2: Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
    • -6: Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere
Rebeca Finger
The John Sloan Dickey Center