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Studying the Soil

Professor Isaac often goes out into the field with her students to take a look at soil samples

Hi, my name is Marney Isaac. I teach two second-year classes at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) - one in Environmental Science on the principles of soil science and another on development and environment in the International Development Studies program.

My research focuses on plant-soil interactions and the efficiency of nutrient cycles in agricultural and agroforestry systems. I also have a keen interest in general human-environment interactions, especially our overall impact on ecosystem services. My research applies ecological principles to agricultural landscapes with particular attention to new strategies for conservation and management.

A few weeks ago I took my second-year UTSC soil science class out to the Oak Ridges Moraine, one of the most significant landforms in southern Ontario. The moraine contains the headwaters of 65 river systems and has a wide diversity of streams, woodlands, wetlands, kettle lakes, kettle bogs and significant flora and fauna. It is one of the last remaining continuous green corridors in southern Ontario and is still 30 per cent forested.

We took a look at the soil, which has been disturbed by deforestation, soil degradation and subsequent land restoration. The students took soil samples, looking at the change in soil complexity.By looking at the relationship between the chemical make-up of the soil and its physical characteristics, students were able to learn how to predict soil functioning and resilience under a wide range of scenarios.Field trips like this excursion to the Oak Ridges Moraine give undergraduate students a chance to be actively engaged with course material. They actually get to apply in practice what they've been learning in theory.

While it is important to learn the scientific basics and key theories in environmental science that can only be taught in a classroom, it is also extremely important to develop the hands-on skills needed to navigate uncertainty in the field.

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