2023-2024 / GEOP0003-2

Origins and functions of soils


31h Th, 26h Pr, 6h FT

Number of credits

 Master in environmental bioengineering (120 ECTS)6 crédits 


Jean-Thomas Cornelis, Aurore Degré


Marie Dincher


Marie Dincher

Language(s) of instruction

French language

Organisation and examination

Teaching in the first semester, review in January


Schedule online

Units courses prerequisite and corequisite

Prerequisite or corequisite units are presented within each program

Learning unit contents

The soil, as bio-physical and chemical reactor, interface between the atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere, appears and evolves from the parent material under the effect of the weather and the vegetation.

This course will deal with the various processes involved in the soil genesis.

We will start with the soil formation, organic matter dynamics, water dynamics and phases exchanges. Then we will talk about the cycles of soil evolution. In the end, we will discuss the soils classification systems (belgian, WRB-FAO, IUSS), and the main principles of soil management.

The fundamental concepts will be applied through a field trip which will allow the students to understand the diversity of physico-chemical properties of soisl and their formation processes. This will be carried out trough soil profile investigation in different geological regions.

The originality of the course lays in the fact that the soil genesis, the chemical and physical aspects will be presented in parallel. We will develop the soil physics, the links between the liquid ans solid phases in saturated and unsaturated soils. The notions of anisotropy and the effect of water on the matrix itself will also be studied.

An important part of the course will consist in the building and instrumentation of a soil column using various probes in order to measure the main chemical and physical variables under controlled conditions. Therefore, the theoritical aspects will be complemented with various measurement techniques dedicated to soil physics, data collection chain, data management and interpretation. The objective will be to understand the water and solute flows within a soil column.

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

At the end of the course, the student will be able to
- integrate various disciplines in view to build a diagnosis of the pedological processes and soils functionning. He/she will be able to assess the impact of human activities on it.
- distinguish and summerize concisely and precisely the laws that explain the functionning of the soil cover. he/she will use the relationship between factors, processes and properties
- master the basics of soil physics and the laws that govern water movment
- describe and predict the pedological prcesses that responsibles of soil evolution depending on the environment. He/She will apply the tools and concepts (like interpretation of soil analyses) presented during the course
- identify the formation processes in the major soil types (in natural or modified invironments), based on the lectures and field trips
- classify soil types unsing the soil typology
- describe the proporties and explain how the major soils in the World do function in the light of their agricultural potential
The course contributes to the development of students competencies and prepares them to the following professionnal situations
- conceive and dimension monitoring and production system in an agro-environmental context
- collect data, build experiments and interpret results
- build appropriate models in order to predict variables evolution, interpret results and draw conclusions from research
- Optimize and manage the flows between soil, water, fauna, plants and atmosphere
- conceive and put into prcactice remediation solutions in the soil plant atmosphere systems
Furthermore, the course will certify the following step of the competency reference system :
" realize an operationnal monitoring system and use it to quantify a system's performances"

Prerequisite knowledge and skills

GEOP0002-1 - Edaphology
HYDR0001-1 General Hydrology
GEOP0008-1 -  Earth Science
GEOP0009-1 - Soil Science

Planned learning activities and teaching methods

Magistral lectures , lab and field work

the practical work requires daily monitoring (including weekends and holidays) for a period of 2 weeks during the quadrimester (workload to be distributed within the group)

Attendance is mandatory for practicals (lab and field work)


Mode of delivery (face to face, distance learning, hybrid learning)

face to face

Recommended or required readings

slideshows and scientific papers available on e-campus

Radcliffe and Simunek (2010) Soil physics with Hydrus. Modelling and applications. Book available at the library as well as at the "office des cours"

Duchaufour Ph. (1997), Abrégé de pédologie, Masson, Paris, 291 p.

FAO (2001), Lecture notes on the major soils of the world, P. Driessen et al. ed., Rome, World Soil Resources Reports, 94, 334 p.

FAO (2006), World reference base for soil resources 2006, Rome, World Soil Resources Reports, 103, 128 p.


Blaize D (2021), Naissance et évolution des sols, Éditions Quae, 160p.

Exam(s) in session

Any session

- In-person

oral exam

Written work / report

Additional information:

The practical part will be the subject of an oral presentation during the quadrimester as well as a group report.

The field trip part will be subject of an excursion report in groups of two students during the quadrimestre (attention, no second session for the report).

An oral exam of the theoretical part is organized at the end of the session.

The final mark will result of the three evaluations (50% practical part, 25% excursion part, 25% oral exam).


Under yellow code présentations will be organised face to face

under orange code presentations will be organised remotely using Teams

Work placement(s)

Organisational remarks and main changes to the course

mandatory attendence to practicals (lab and field)


Marie Dincher Water soil plants exchanges 081 62 22 41 marie.dincher@uliege.be   Aurore Degré Water soil plants exchanges aurore.degre@uliege.be

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