Soils and Biogeochemistry


To develop a center of excellence focusing program and campus expertise on soil-microbe-plant-environment interactions, to promote soil sustainability in managed and natural environments, to advance the idea that soil is a fundamental environmental component, and to foster research, teaching, and outreach efforts in environmental and resource sciences, on campus, within the University and to bring this expertise to the global community.


There are 13 full-time Senate faculty, 1 jointly appointed Senate faculty (L&S and Engr.), 2 CE specialists, and 2 prof. research scientists totaling 4.51 I&R, 6.55 OR, and 2.0 CE. One S&B faculty serves as LAWR chair and one faculty is an assoc. vice chancellor in the Office of Research. By 2006, 1 CE specialist and 1 Senate faculty member will be 65.

Major Programmatic Thrusts of the Department (current)

  • Chemical and biological transformations of chemicals
  • Transport of materials between soil and the atmosphere or surface and ground water supplies
  • Restoration of degraded soils and groundwater
  • Chemical reactions at the soil-water-plant interface
  • Soil-plant-nutrient-environment interactions
  • Microbial ecology
  • Biogeochemistry and pedology

Major Programmatic Thrusts of the Department (5-10 years)

  • Bioremediation of metal contaminants in soils and groundwater
  • Elemental cycles and biogeochemical processes in ecosystems
  • Environmental geochemistry
  • Plant adaptation to soil and environmental stresses
  • Food chain transfer of nutrients and trace elements
  • The role and management of soils as sources and sinks of organic pollutants, particulates and greenhouse gases
  • Applications of molecular methods to the understand of chemical and biological phenomena in complex environments
  • Biodiversity of soils

Program Impact/Ranking

Soils programs within the country are not ranked. However, the program is highly respected nationally and internationally. Several faculty have received national and international research and teaching awards. Members are active in national and international societies and serve as program chairs and officers. Two faculty members are Soil Science Society of America Fellows. Several faculty members serve on the editorial boards of premier journals in soil science, geochemistry, microbiology and plant sciences. One faculty and one active emeritus faculty are members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Extramural Grants and Gifts

Direct cost expenditures for 97/98 & 98/99 were $1,145,819 and $2,369,556 respectively, Grant sources include NSF, NIEH, DOE, USDA, EPA, CA Dept Food and Ag, CA Dept of Pesticide Regulation. Wat. Res. Center, Kearney Found. of Soil Sci., CA Water Res.Cont. Bd., and the CA Air Res. Bd. We expect our funding level to increase.

Teaching Programs of the Department

The program is responsible for the soil and water science (S&WS) major, shares and responsibility for the ERS major, and is the primary "home" for the Soil Sci.Grad. Group. In 98/99 student credit hours totaled 2,963, an increase from 2,576 in 93/94.The Soils Grad.Group has 35 students. There are 15 majors in S&WS, and 115 majors in ERS. We expect modest growth in ERS over the next few years.

Outreach/Extension Roles

CE specialists in the program are developing techniques to improve crop nutrient utilization and minimize pollution. GPS and GIS systems and site-specific farming practices for California are being tested. Practices to reduce nitrate pollution in the Salinas Valley and other coastal vegetable production areas have been distributed. Nutrient management of dairy lagoons is currently emerging issue in the Central Valley. Increased utilization of nutrients contained in wastes (particularly animal manures) to reduce nitrate contamination is a current and future need for the state and the S&B-CE program.

Potential for Collaborative Links to Other Units to Develop Clusters of Excellence

The program has natural collaborative links to the other two programs within LAWR. Several faculty in the program participate in the NEAT and Watershed Science initiatives and several are participants in the ECOTOX and NIEH Superfund programs. One faculty member leads the EPA Center of Ecological Health Research, which funds participants from throughout the college and campus. S&B is the lead unit developing a Center for Soil Sustainability. This center envisions participation from several departments within A&ES and linkages to the Center for Ecological Health Research, the John Muir Institute, the Integrated Watershed Science Center and other campus units.

Positions Needed to Improve Research, Teaching and Extension Goals

  1. Soil microbiologist to study the transformations of metals and radionuclides on surfaces and in soils, drainage ponds, and to study bioremediation
  2. Surface chemist to study the interaction of chemical and trace elements with soil and environmental surfaces and to work on fundamental aspects of surfaces
  3. Soil organic matter chemist to study characteristics and interactions of organic constituents in soils and groundwater in order to improve our program in environmental chemistry
  4. Rhizosphere biologist to examine the interactions of plant roots and soil organisms
  5. Biogeochemist to examine nutrient transfer from terrestrial to the aquatic systems and to examine in and near stream nutrient and pollutant processing
  6. Soil resource specialist (CE) to provide expertise in land use interpretation, restoration of degraded lands, and protection of the soil from erosion, compaction and salinization
  7. Soil and water chemistry specialist (CE) to provide expertise regarding chemistry of heavy metals and organics in soil and water and related analytical methodologies

Priorities (No Growth)

We plan to use positions from retirements to bolster our expertise in soil microbial processes and bioremediation. Positions 1,2,3 &7 involve a redirection from plant areas to soil and environmental processes. Position 1 is our top priority followed by position 3 and 2. Position 7 is the top CE priority.

Priorities (Minimal Growth)

Include Position 3, to complement Position 1 and to study the interaction of organics with soil surfaces and to add expertise as we address global change (trace gases & CO2 fluxes). These positions have direct ties to NEAT, CEHR, the JMI, and Integ. Watershed Sci.Cent. The added I&R FTE would be used to teach and coordinate course on chemicals in the soil environment. We expect these new courses including a "case studies" course to attract students from several disciplines. A joint offering of these courses with Etox is being discussed.

Projected Resource Needs and Strategies for Achieving

The greatest need is for increased quality of space to effectively conduct research and teaching. We also need to update our instrumentation. The space situation will be remedied when we move to the new Plant & Environmental Science building in January 2002. We are aggressively pursuing new equipment via campus collaborations, grant and contact efforts and matching funds for campus equipment dollars. Another major need is for increased funding to the CE program to maintain and upgrade their education and research programs.