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What is a Soil Scientist?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2018
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A soil scientist is someone who specializes in the study of soils. Also known as pedologists, soil scientists work for government agencies, environmental organizations, research facilities, agriculture companies, and educational institutions. Most soil scientists hold at least a bachelor's degree in soil science or a related subject, and some hold graduate level degrees which have qualified them for special types of work in soil science.

General soil science is concerned with the study of the formation and composition of soils. Soil scientists look at the physical and chemical composition of the soil, and they also study the ways in which the soil influences the natural environment, and vice versa. For example, soil quality determines what kinds of plants can grow, while many fungi in the natural environment contribute to the enrichment of soil. In environmental soil science, a soil scientist focuses specifically on environmental quality as it relates to soils, looking at issues like soil contamination, how human uses impact regional soils, and how soil can be utilized effectively and non-destructively.

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A soil scientist may spend a great deal of time in the field, looking at soil in situ, collecting samples, and making observations about the environment. Soil scientists also work in the laboratory, conducting tests on soil samples to learn about the composition of the soil, and they use this information to prepare reports and make recommendations. Some things a soil scientist might do include: assessing land before development takes place to prepare a soil report; analyzing soils sent from home gardeners to provide information about the balance of nutrients in the soil; and working with an environmental policy organization to make recommendations which will help conserve the environment.

Whether soil scientists work for the government or for private companies, their pay can vary considerably. The private sector tends to pay more, as a general rule, although the government may offer better benefits in terms of health care and retirement accounts. Soil scientist job listings can be found in many trade publications, and companies which utilize soil scientists may also maintain lists of job openings on their web sites or in their information offices.

Many soil scientists belong to professional organizations, some of which offer certifications for their members. Membership in a professional organization helps a soil scientist keep up with developments in the field, while certification is used to create a voluntary standard which can be used to promote excellence in soil science. A soil scientist who holds a certification can usually earn more money than one who does not.

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