Soil and Water Chemistry

Study soil and water chemistry. Learn about the complex interactions of soil and water in the environment and their applications in agriculture, health and environmental management.

Course Code: BSC307
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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This course discusses the interactions between soil, water, and the environment. In the first lesson, you'll refresh your chemistry knowledge, the move on to important geochemical cycles. Once the basics are established, you'll learn about soil structure and classification, the effect of pH and cation exchange capacity, soil sampling, nutrient content and uptake, soil fertility, and more.

In the second half of the course, you'll learn about the hydrological cycle, groundwater and seawater, and drought and its impact. After these basics are established, you'll move on to a discussion of potable water, EC and other chemical testing, and real world applications of water chemistry and human health. The course culminates in a Problem-Based Learning Project, to help cement your learning.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Soil Chemistry: An Introduction
    • Introduction
    • Chemistry Revision (inc. Chemical Terms, Elements, Compounds, Bonds).
    • Soil Redox Reactions.
    • Biogeochemistry and Soil Structure Review.
    • Biogeochemical Cycles.
    • Mineralisation.
    • Immobilisation.
    • Ammonium Fixation.
    • The Urea Cycle.
    • Soil Absorption/Desorption.
  2. Soil Chemical Processes
    • Introduction: How Soils Develop.
    • Factors of Soil Formation in More Detail.
    • Weathering Processes of Soil Formation.
    • Soil Profile Description.
    • Soil Classification and Description.
    • Classification of British Soils.
    • Soil Types and Plant Growth.
    • Properties of Soils.
    • Physical and Chemical Properties of Soil.
    • Soil Characteristics and their Relationship to Plant Growth.
  3. Soil-Chemical Testing
    • Introduction.
    • Common Soil Tests.
    • Other Soil Cations.
    • The CEC in Soils.
  4. Soil Chemistry – Applications in Agriculture
    • The Components of Soil Fertility.
  5. Soil Chemistry – Applications in Environmental Management
    • Introduction.
    • Soil Pollutants.
    • Soil Remediation.
  6. Water Chemistry - Introduction
    • Water: Chemical and Physical Properties.
    • Hydrological Cycle.
    • Water Resources.
    • Water Footprint.
    • Drought and Impact.
  7. Water – Chemistry of Water Sources and Drinking Water
    • Water Sources And Their Chemical Composition.
    • Chemistry of Seawater.
    • Chemistry of Groundwater.
    • Chemistry of Surface Water.
    • Chemistry of Potable Drinking Water.
  8. Water – Chemical Testing
    • Introduction.
    • Water PH.
    • Electrical Conductivity.
    • Total Alkalinity.
    • Total Hardness.
  9. Water Chemistry Applications for Agriculture and Human Health
    • Water pollutants
    • Types of pollutants
    • Indicators - physical, chemical, biological
    • Examples of Contaminants & their Remediation - salinity, mosquitos, etc
  10. Water Chemistry Applications in Agriculture
    • A Problem-Based Learning Project designed to:
    • Interpret results of water testing on water used in agricultural production.
    • Examine how pollutants affect farming practice, yield, and environmental impacts.
    • Discuss potential improvements or recommendations to reduce contamination of water sources.
    • Synthesise a cohesive plan to ensure the safe and efficient operations within a production system.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Describe the dominant geochemical cycles on earth.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of basic chemistry including atoms and their components, elements, compounds and chemical reactions.
  • Explain the important chemical reactions occurring in soil and their consequences.
  • Differentiate between different soil fractions with respect to their nature, size and chemical activity.
  • Describe different soil test methods and explain how the test results are used.
  • Explore components of soil fertility.
  • Describe soil chemistry/fertility factors affecting crop growth in different farming environments.
  • Explain ways of improving soil fertility for crop production.
  • Discuss the impact of chemically altering soil vs. cycling and other natural methods.
  • Describe inorganic and organic soil pollutants.
  • Discuss effects on health and the environment.
  • Discuss ways to remediate soils.
  • Outline the components of the earth’s water cycle.
  • Describe the main chemical properties of water.
  • Explain the various ways in which water is classified.
  • Explain the chemistry of different water sources, giving examples of different properties and reactions.
  • Describe different water test methods and explain how the test results are used.

What You Will Do

  • Research redox reactions, then diagram the reductive and oxidative processes in photosynthesis.
  • Discuss the chemical structure of a colour-causing compound.
  • Discuss how hydrogen defines the difference between acidic soil and alkaline soil.
  • Gather soil samples from 3 different locations and perform pH tests on each of the soil samples.
  • Conduct research about costs, operation and application of various types of soil testing equipment.
  • Research tillage, and how it affects all the components of soil fertility and chemical ratios in the soil.
  • Discuss the relationship between carbon and nitrogen in the soil and how nitrogen affects carbon availability.
  • Research pesticide heavy crops in your area, then alternative or low-chemical ways to reduce pests.
  • Research the chemistry of seawater. Draw a diagram representing the oxygen and carbon dioxide movement in seawater.
  • Investigate potable water and potable water treatments.
  • Investigate the relevance of water hardness in agriculture.
  • Research the relationship between EC and pH.


The chemistry of soils and water are key factors for consideration in managing the quality of our environment.

Soils are affected by a multitude of factors. The simplest "external" factors affecting soils are contaminants and pollutants. Contaminants are usually considered things added by humans, things that have been introduced to the environment or soil environment. Pollutants may be the result of human intervention, or naturally occurring. This means a contaminant is always a pollutant, but a pollutant is not always a contaminant. 
Managing these external factors is an important part of keeping soil healthy and productive.

Water purity informs us of how useful or dangerous a water source is. Consider consumption of potable water, crop growth, livestock, disease transmission, and more. Understanding where the water we use comes from, its general composition and environmental factors affecting that composition and waste production are essential to using water safely and effectively.

Managing the external factors affecting water sources is essential to maintaining health for humans, animals, and agriculture. Just as in soil chemistry, biomagnification can make seemingly small amounts of pollutions or contamination quite dangerous.

By studying this course you can expand your capacity to manage the quality of both water and soil, and in doing so, be better at managing any situation where water or soil quality matter, such as:

  • Environmental Management and Conservation
  • Agriculture and Horticulture
  • Land Management
  • Urban Development and Construction
  • Mining and Extraction Industries
  • Water supply
  • Drainage and Flood Mitigation
  • Recreational Water Resources - pools, rivers, beaches etc

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