• Lancaster University

Soil Science: Exploring the World Beneath our Feet

Discover how soil is crucial for life on Earth, how humans impact this fragile system, and what we can do to better protect it.

25,896 enrolled on this course

hands cupping a single plant growing from soil

Soil Science: Exploring the World Beneath our Feet

25,896 enrolled on this course

  • 4 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Introductory level

Find out more about how to join this course

Explore cutting-edge research into soil science with Lancaster University

Soils are a complex environment, teeming with life and supporting our most fundamental environmental processes.

On this four-week course, you’ll learn from groundbreaking research taking place at Lancaster University to understand the basics of soil science. You’ll also have the opportunity to get your hands dirty with practical experience in assessing soil properties and conditions.

This knowledge will help you understand why soil is so important and what we can do to protect our soils from the many threats they face.

Explore soil properties and what lives below the ground

There are more living things in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on the planet.

This course will help you discover the variety of life in the soil, including invertebrates, microbes, and fungi to understand the complex system beneath our feet.

Understand the importance of soil security

With a firm grasp of what soil is, you’ll explore the relationship between soils and the rise and fall of different civilisations.

This understanding will help you delve further into the importance of soil and how we can ensure its security.

Explore soil erosion, contamination, and other threats

Finally, you’ll learn about how and why soils are under threat at both a local and global scale.

Exploring issues such as climate change, air pollution, and invasive species, you’ll understand why we need to be doing more to protect our soils. With this knowledge, you’ll be inspired to take action for soil protection.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds Have you ever thought about the soil beneath us?

Skip to 0 minutes and 22 seconds Did you know that the rise and fall of civilizations depends on soils, or that there are more living things in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on the planet? We rely on soil for many resources, not least food and water. But soils can take thousands of years to form. And they are fragile. We are damaging it in many ways. If we want to protect our soils, we need to understand them.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds Soils are amazing. They’re complex and full of life. And yet few of us give soils a second thought. In this course, I’m going to take you on a journey through the world beneath our feet.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds We’ll start by learning about the basics of soil science, what soil is made of, and how soils are formed. We’ll also look at the variety of soils around the world. We’ll find out about why soil is so important and about the life within soils. Finally, we’ll look at threats to soil and why we need to be doing more to protect it. Throughout the course, you’ll have the chance to learn about cutting edge research in soil science taking place here at Lancaster University.

Skip to 1 minute and 41 seconds So if you already have an interest in the environment, this course will be perfect for you. You don’t need any specialist expertise or knowledge. And it’s open to students from anywhere in the world. You will get the chance to participate actively by joining discussions, taking part in quizzes, and getting your hands dirty with activities related to the soil where you live. By the end of this course, you will have a basic understanding of soil science and some of the threats to soils. Join us and learn that soil is more interesting than you might think.


  • Week 1

    What is soil?

    • Welcome

      Find out what this course is about and how to get the most out of it.

    • Introduction

      What are soils made of and how are they formed?

    • Soil texture

      Texture of soil is important not only in relation to soil formation but also for a whole range of other properties.

    • Summing up

      This week you have learnt the basics of soil science, what soils are made of, how they form and the variety of soils .

    • Test your knowledge

      Have a go at this quiz to see how much you've learnt

  • Week 2

    What lives in the soil?

    • What lives in the soil?

      Soils are full of life but what can we expect to find living there?

    • The variety of soil life

      Life below ground is as diverse, if not more, than the life we see above ground but it is easy to overlook because we cannot see it.

    • Soil invertebrates

      Invertebrates play very important roles in the soil helping the processes of decomposition and nutrient cycling.

    • Microbes and Fungi

      Much of the life in the soil is too small with the naked eye to see but it doesn’t mean it is any less important.

    • The importance of plants

      Plants are a very important part of life in the soil and soil is essential for the majority of plants.

    • Summary

      This week you have learnt about some of the variety of life found in the soil.

    • Test your knowledge

      Have a go at this quiz to see how much you've learnt

  • Week 3

    Why is soil so important

    • Introduction

      During this course you have already learnt that soil is complex and full of life but why is it so important? Should we be taking greater care of our soils?

    • The rise and fall of civilisations

      Throughout history there are many examples of the importance of soil to societies and civilisations.

    • Soil security

      Soil security is concerned with ensuring the future security of our soil resource and all the essential services it plays.

    • Soil erosion

      One of the greatest threats to our soil resource is soil erosion. Learn about the process of erosion and see the problems it can cause.

    • Surface sealing

      Soils in the built environment are mostly covered by impermeable surfaces preventing their natural functions. How much of a problem is this where you live?

    • Soil contamination

      Soil can be contaminated by a range of chemicals and industrial processes. Removing the chemicals can be a difficult and expensive process.

    • Summary

      This week you have learnt about the concept of soil security and some of the threats our soils are facing.

    • Test your knowledge

      Have a go at this quiz to see how much you've learnt.

  • Week 4

    Soils and Global Change

    • Introduction

      Soils face a wide range of threats on a local level but there are also threats from global change processes that are happening to our planet.

    • Soils and climate change

      Climate change will impact on every aspect of our natural environment and soils are no exception to this.

    • Soils and air pollution

      Air pollution may not be the first threat that we think of in relation to soils but the impacts of air pollution can be severe.

    • Invasive species

      Invasive species are those that spread outside their natural range. Invasive plant species can have a big impact on soils and the life within them.

    • Soils and land use change

      Land use can have a variety of impacts on soil

    • Summing up

      This week you have learnt about the threats to soils and some of the research that is ongoing to try and understand what might happen in the future.

    • Test your knowledge

      Have a go at this quiz to see how much you've learned.

    • What next?

      Have you thought about studying soils or related subjects? Find out more about studying in Lancaster.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Develop an understanding of what soil is made of and how it forms
  • Describe soil texture including how to test it yourself
  • Explore the variety and diversity of life in the soil
  • Evaluate the importance of soils throughout history
  • Identify threats to soil security
  • Assess threats of global environmental change to soils

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in soils, biology, geography, and environmental science. No prior knowledge is required.

We are delighted the course has been popular with many different learners aged 18 – 75.

Who will you learn with?

Lecturer in Lancaster University environment Centre

Who developed the course?

Lancaster University

Lancaster University is a collegiate university, with a global reputation as a centre for research, scholarship and teaching with an emphasis on employability.

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Buy this course

$69/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 12 Aug 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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