Soils class field trips: Wetlands and glacial features and forest soils, oh my!

As part of the soils class I’m teaching, my advisor and I planned two field trips to nearby nature/science preserves to let the students get some hands-on experience with soil fieldwork (sampling, description, etc.) as well as to look at some classic Michigan glacial geomorphological features. The first was back in September (during the outrageously hot week), and we went to the Edwin George Reserve. It’s a University of Michigan natural research station; lots of biology and ecology work gets done there. Not much has been done with the soils, though, so we made a deal with the Reserve: we were granted access as long as we shared our data. Done!

For that trip, we visited four sites: two wetlands and two forests. The students sampled soil cores, measured variables like pH and soil moisture, and got some practice identifying horizons and describing soils (they weren’t a huge fan of the Munsell color book). The main goal of this trip was to give the students real field experience collecting samples and data that they would use in the lab. Now, this was a bit of a risk, because I think we all know that labwork doesn’t always work perfectly. Which is a huge understatement. (Looking at you, finnicky ICP-OES! And you, solution that mysteriously turned cloudy and I don’t know why!) But we thought it was important to give the students a realistic, field-based science experience.


We just took our second field trip, and the weather was beautiful. For this trip, we went to another nature preserve near Chelsea, MI: the Gerald Eddy reserve (DNR operated). It was just a morning-early afternoon trip, and the students weren’t sampling (though I was!). Instead, they were taking the same field measurements as before (pH, soil moisture, compaction, and friends) and comparing the wetland values to those they’d gotten on the previous field trip. The Eddy reserve has some great glacial features, so the students spent some time identifying eskers and kettle lakes. (We also saw loads of pitcher plants, which was neat.)


OM-rich wetland soil core!

My advisor Nathan Sheldon discussing hydrologic differences between bogs and fens. The students are amazed.

You can tell they’re pitcher plants because of the way they are.

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