Special Anniversary Session

Darwin profile

A Look Back at a Century of Soil Science at the University of Saskatchewan

Darwin Anderson, Professor Emeritus, Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan

The Department of Soils began in 1919 with the appointment of Roy Hansen as a Professor of Soils. Dr. Hansen, a PhD graduate from the University of Illinois taught the first course in 1920; he also wrote Extension Bulletin 1, began a program of supplying Rhizobacter cultures to farmers, and initiated the soil survey program. Arthur Joel, an MSc graduate from Michigan Agricultural College, was hired in 1922 to focus on soil survey, and became Head in 1924 when Hansen returned to the USA. Upon Joel’s departure in 1934, Dr. Mitchell became Head and made huge contributions to soil education and knowledge, particularly combining soil survey experience with graduate studies to prepare scientists for careers provincially, nationally, and internationally. Soil Survey Reports 12 (1944) and 13 (1948) were completed and became the base for land management decisions and taxation assessment of farmland for many decades. Beginning in the ‘40s and continuing through to the ‘70s, the department grew and was home to many breakthroughs in Soil Science, including the use of 32P to study plant nutrition, 137Cs to study soil erosion, and the risks of summer-fallow. By the ‘80s and ‘90s, gender composition had changed, from almost completely male for the first five decades to gender balance in undergraduate and graduate programs, coincident with an increasingly more female faculty. Frances Walley was appointed as the first female professor in 1997 and became Head in 2005. Over the years, the department broadened its research scope and contributions beyond agriculture, to incorporate more work on environmental issues, including remediation and reclamation, greenhouse gas emissions, and carbon sequestration. Today, the Department offers undergraduate programs in Soil Science, Environmental Science, and Renewable Resource Management, and graduate study in a wide range of research areas, many of them benefitting substantially from new technologies such as the synchrotron located at the Canadian Light Source on our campus. At its centennial, the Department of Soil Science has both a distinguished past and a promising future.

Dan profile

Have a look around”: 90 years of landscape-scale soil research at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dan Pennock, Professor Emeritus, Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan

Landscape-scale pedology focuses on soil properties and processes that cannot be understood in isolation from their position in the landscape – where lateral transfers of water, solutes, and sediments at present or in the past are central to explaining the soil properties we see at a given point. It differs substantially from classical soil taxonomy, which concentrated almost exclusively on stable soil properties of an artificial block of soil, the pedon. Soil mapping in the Prairie Provinces inevitably involved the creation of soil-landscape models with explicit linkages between soil distribution and landscape attributes. These linkages were central to the development of landscape-scale research designs in the last 30 years. For example, research on soil erosion using Cesium-137 and groundwater-soil interactions in hummocky terrain provided process-level explanations for the pattern of soil distribution observed in the soil surveys. Landscape-scale research designs also allow us to study dynamic processes such as nitrogen transformations in complex landscapes using scientifically credible designs and hence link pedological research to the other disciplines of soil science. This use of field pedology to enrich our understanding of other soil processes, both basic and applied, is a distinctive contribution of the soil science community in Saskatchewan.