Climate and Temperature

Climate and Temperature Activity Source: Soil Science Society of America. Adapted with permission. There are many factors that combine to form soil, an important, slowly renewable resource. Some of these factors include climate, organisms, relief, parent material, and time. Soil provides the food, fiber, and building materials to nourish, clothe, and house Earth’s inhabitants. How does climate help soil to form? In warm, moist climates such as those in tropical rainforests, organic (formerly living) material breaks down most quickly. [Read More]

Critical Zone

Critical Zone Activity Source: Critical Zone Observatories The Critical Zone (CZ) is defined as the zone at Earth’s land surface extending from the top of the vegetation canopy through soil to subsurface depths at which fresh groundwater freely circulates. This is the zone where most terrestrial life — including humanity — resides. The U.S. Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs) provide important platforms for studying processes occurring in this zone. The CZOs aim to advance interdisciplinary studies of Earth surface processes, partly to recognize and predict variations in processes resulting from humans’ land use and climate change. [Read More]

Density of Minerals

Density of Minerals Activity Source: Adapted with permission by Minerals Education Coalition; Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration. Density is an intrinsic physical property of minerals that relates to the composition of the mineral and to the pattern in which the mineral’s atoms are arranged. “Intrinsic” means that the property is the same for the mineral, no matter what the size or shape of the sample. In this activity, students will measure and compare the densities of minerals. [Read More]

Dig Into Soil

Dig Into Soil Activity Source: Wendy Greenberg, Soil Science Society of America. Adapted with permission. Soil scientists often examine soils and record soil data outside. Soil is not just topsoil; it includes other horizons (soil layers) underneath the topsoil. So soil scientists use shovels or soil augers to get samples of many soil horizons. They record soil colors, textures, and types of living organisms for various soil horizons. They also record the location, vegetation, and topography of each soil. [Read More]

Digging Into Soil

Digging Into Soil Activity Source: American Geophysical Union. Adapted with permission from “Soils Sustain Life,” AGI. Materials Piece of heavy duty PVC pipe about one inch in diameter and 10 inches long Piece of wood doweling that will fit inside the PVC pipe Hammer Wood block Leather garden glove Hand lens or microscope Non-toxic marker Large sheet of white posterboard Six clear plastic sandwich bags Plastic knife Tools for separating soil, such as tweezers, tongue depressor, drinking straw Paper towels (for clean up) Procedure 1. [Read More]

Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency Activity Source: Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development. Adapted with permission. In Swords into Plowshares: At Home in a Missile Silo, Tony Crossley says of his underground home: “The winters are bitterly cold, the summers feature spectacular afternoon thunderstorms and occasional tornadoes, and throughout the year we get days when the wind is very strong. Underground it’s always quiet and peaceful, and no matter how cold it gets outside, the interior never freezes, even though we don’t have any heating yet. [Read More]

Exploring Porosity

Exploring Porosity Activity Source: The NEED Project. Adapted with permission. Earth scientists play a vital role in harvesting the energy resources on which we all rely. When preparing to drill for oil, for example, geoscientists must assess many aspects of a rock stratum (layer). For example, they must figure out the volume of the rock’s pores, or empty spaces, as compared with the rock’s total volume. This is called the rock’s porosity. [Read More]

Finding Slope

Finding Slope Activity Source: Soil Science Society of America. H.M. Galloway, A.L. Zachery, Agronomy Department, Purdue University, Revised by S.S. Fulk-Bringman. Adapted with permission. Earth scientists play an important, if largely invisible, role in many aspects of our daily lives, such as building homes or growing food. For example, geoscientists help determine which locations would be best for undertaking these vital activities. The slope of the soil is an important soil property to consider when building or planting. [Read More]


Flood! Activity Source: Credit: Susan Hurstcalderone, science and resource teacher, Blessed Sacrament School, Washington, D.C. Length of Lesson: Two class periods Objectives: Students will understand the following: Different types of soil have different capacities for retaining rainwater. If the soil in an area will not hold enough rainwater, flooding problems will ensue. Soil can be tested for its water-retaining capacity. Materials: The following materials should be distributed to each group: [Read More]

How Can You Test Your Soil?

How Can You Test Your Soil? Activity Source: Soil Science Society of America, 2006. Adapted with permission. Background We walk around on soil all the time, but how often do we think about what’s in it? If you have ever looked closely at soil, you probably saw that it is made up of various types of particles and has various materials mixed in with those particles (rocks, twigs, water, air, worms, insects, and much more). [Read More]