The Critical Zone

Links to the Critical Zone


As we progress through the semester, you will learn that all of the various "spheres" that overlap in the Critical Zone, and all of the state factors of soil formation, are complexly interrelated—it is difficult to tease out the effects of a single factor or "sphere," on the Critical Zone. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to assess aspects of Critical Zone science associated with a single "sphere," if for no other reason than we can draw on the accumulated knowledge of various scientific sub-disciplines that have focused on an individual "sphere." More importantly, though, is the fact that my brain best understands and learns simple concepts, so we will more closely consider the effects of a single variable, the atmosphere, on the Critical Zone to complete this lesson.



For this assignment, you will need to record your work on a word processing document. Your work must be submitted in Word (.doc) or PDF (.pdf) format so I can open it. In addition, documents must be double-spaced and typed in 12 point Times Roman font.


  1. Before we consider atmospheric effects on soils and predictions of changes to soils associated with climate change, please re-read pages 19–20 from Brantley et al. (2006). These pages will remind you of the complex interactions between the biosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere before you focus on atmospheric effects.
    • Brantley, S., White, T., White, A., Sparks, D., Richter, D., Pregitzer, K., et al. (2006). Frontiers in exploration of the Critical Zone. In Frontiers in exploration of the Critical Zone: Report of a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). (pp. 1–30). Newark, DE. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
  2. Next, read Derry, L. A., & O. A. Chadwick. (2007). Contributions from Earth's Atmosphere to Soil. ELEMENTS, 3(5): 333–38. (This article is available online through Library Reserves.)

    As you learn about aerosol inputs to soils, particularly on isolated ocean islands where strong atmospheric fluxes can be contrasted to bedrock (parent material) signatures, note that Lou and Oliver are both steering committee members for the Critical Zone Exploration Network.

    As you read the article, consider whether or not the soils you studied in your Web Soil Survey activity may have significant atmospheric inputs. (You will be asked to submit your answers to these questions below.)
    • Are the inputs natural or anthropogenic?
    • Do the inputs provide vital components to the soil or do they degrade the soil?
    • In either case, what would happen if the inputs were increased or decreased?
  3. Continue reading the two short articles from Soils on a Warmer Earth. I want you to leave these readings with the general sense that many soil scientists expect soils to be altered, in some cases drastically, because of climate change, and that the soil changes are expected to vary regionally. Most of these changes entail variations in soil moisture and temperature, but higher leaching and erosion rates are expected under conditions of elevated rainfall, whereas increased salinization is expected in regions susceptible to drier climate. Also, note that some soils are considered to be more "resilient" than others.
    • Brinkman, R. (1990). Resilience against climate change? Soil minerals, transformations and surface properties, Eh, pH. In H. W. Scharpenseel & M. Shoemaker (Eds.), Soils on a Warmer Earth (pp. 51–60). Elsevier Publishing Company.
    • Szabolcs, I. (1990). Impact of climate change on soil attributes: Influence on salinization and alkalinization. In H. W. Scharpenseel & M. Shoemaker (Eds.), Soils on a Warmer Earth (pp. 61–69). Elsevier Publishing Company.
  4. Complete this activity by considering the following questions with respect to your Web Soil Survey results. (You will be asked to submit your answers to these questions below.)
    • What changes do you expect in your study soil as Earth's climate warms?
    • How might these changes cascade through the hydrosphere and biosphere?
    • Will they be beneficial?
    • Are there any management strategies worth considering now before the changes occur?
  5. Combine your responses to the questions in steps 2 and 4 into a single paper that is no more than two double-spaced pages in length.
  6. Save your work as either a Microsoft Word or PDF file in the following format:

    L5_links_AccessAccountID_LastName.doc (or .pdf).

    For example, student Elvis Aaron Presley's file would be named "L5_links_eap1_presley.doc"—this naming convention is important, as it will help me make sure I match each submission up with the right student!

Submitting your work

Submit your work to the Lesson 5 - Links to the Critical Zone dropbox in Canvas by the due date indicated on our Canvas calendar. (See the Modules tab in Canvas)

Grading criteria

You will be graded on the quality of your writing. You should not simply write responses to the questions and submit them to me. Instead plan on writing a short stand-alone paragraph (or page or whatever you decide is necessary considering any constraints I might have placed on you) so that anyone can read what you've written and understood it. You should strive to be specific and complete in responding to the questions. Your answers should be analytic, thoughtful and insightful, and should provide an insightful connection between ideas. The writing should be tight and crisp with varied sentence structure and a serious, professional tone.