Thursday, October 1, 2015

Organizer's Wrap-Up: 2015 Region V Soil Judging Contest, Grand Rapids, MN

2015 Region V Soil Judging Contest Organizers, Faculty, Assistant Coaches and Students at the Sawmill Inn, Grand Rapids, MN. September 25th, 2015.
Serving as the organizer for this year's Region V Soil Judging contest was a unique and rewarding experience. It allowed me to work closely with many of our partners within the state (the U.S. Forest Service, USDA-NRCS, and the Minnesota Association of professional Soil Scientists) and deepen our relationships to form a foundation for future success in our joint research, outreach and education efforts.

For those of us who are passionate about Soil Science we find ourselves at a crucial crossroads. Soils information is in higher demand than it has ever been, with food security, resource management and climate change at the top of almost every agenda. This, while at the same time the number of strictly soil-oriented faculty and students continue to shrink shows the major challenges facing our discipline.

Fortunately, major opportunities lie on the horizon. Students with a technical background in soils (even as a minor) are in ever higher demand than their counterparts and can contribute in a more meaningful way to the missions of their organizations. And getting students into the field to experience and explore the land through the lens of Soil Science crosses all disciplinary boundaries, which opens major opportunities for growth in education, research and outreach.

Soil Judging remains one of the most important experiential opportunities for our students and will continue to serve as an anchor upon which the foundation of the future of the educational portion of our discipline rests. I challenge anybody to find a group who is more excited, inquisitive and determined to apply real knowledge in the field than these students. They are not afraid to get wet, get dirty, smell, and even taste soil in order to gain more experience. This is what will set these students apart as they begin their careers in whatever field and whatever locale they may find themselves. It is what will allow them to connect to others through a shared love of the land, and through that they reflect the true core of the United States Land Grant mission.

The support from partners and participants which made this year's competition happen was overwhelming. A huge thank you goes out to all of the faculty members, assistant coaches and students who participated; to USDA-NRCS for providing a backhoe, logistical support and technical assistance for the practice and contest pits; thanks to the U.S. Forest Service, particularly Dr. Randy Kolka and Jim Gries, for providing facilities and logistical assistance for contest day and practice days; the University of Minnesota's North Central Research and Outreach Center for their assistance in providing a practice site; and finally many members of the Minnesota Association of Professional Soil Scientists for volunteering their time in support of this contest.

Official Results and Award Winners:
Individual Judging:
1st  - Erin Bush, Kansas State University
2nd - Casey Campbell, Iowa State University
3rd - Matt Levan, Iowa State University
4th - Chris Weber, Kansas State University
5th - Sondra Larson, University of Minnesota

Group Judging:
1st - South Dakota State University
2nd - Iowa State University (by tiebreaker)
3rd - University of Minnesota (by tiebreaker)

1st - University of Minnesota
2nd - Iowa State University
3rd - Kansas State University*

*NOTE: Because Kansas State University is hosting the 2016 National Soil Judging Contest, they are not eligible to compete. Therefore Region V will be sending The University of Minnesota, Iowa State University and South Dakota State University to the National Contest. The University of Nebraska will be the Alternate Team for the National Contest from Region V.

Thank you everyone for your assistance, motivation and dedication. Kick the tires and light the fires…we'll see you in the pits!!

Nic Jelinski

Friday, September 25, 2015

2015 Region V Collegiate Soil Judging Contest: The Results!


We received the scores this morning and I'm utterly delighted to tell you that the UMN Soil Judging team won the overall contest!!! The scores were:

Overall Results

1st place, University of Minnesota, 1917 points
2nd place, Iowa State University, 1914 points
3rd place, Kansas State University, 1864 points
4th place, South Dakota State University, 1814 points
5th place, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, 1772 points

The Region V traveling trophy will be coming back to Minnesota! Congratulations, Team, you were fantastic!

Photo 1. Team Captain, Rusty Zimmerman, proudly holds the Region V Traveling Trophy for the Overall Competition Winner. Great job, Team!!

UMN Placed 3rd in group judging in one of the tightest competitions in years. The first three places were separated by a single point! The scores were:

Group Judging Results

1st place, South Dakota State University, 668 points
2nd place, Iowa State University, 667 points (won tiebreaker)
3rd place, University of Minnesota, 667 points
4th place, Kansas State University, 637 points
5th place, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, 623 points

Individual Judging Results

The individual scores were also very good for the team, with two individuals placing in the top ten. Sondra Larson collected the 5th place award and Andrea Williams came in 6th.

Three teams (SDSU, ISU, and UMN) will go to the 2015-2016 National Soil Judging Competition, to be held in Manhattan, Kansas, this coming spring.

I give my heartiest congratulations to the team - they were a REAL TEAM, with great spirit, collaboration, and camaraderie. It has been a great experience working with them and I look forward to more experiences with them as they prepare for the upcoming national contest.

I will post additional photos and information in the next couple of days, but wanted to share the great news now!!

Yay TEAM!!
2015 Region V Collegiate Soil Judging Contest: Competition Day

Today is Competition Day! The team is ready and raring to go! And we finally get to find out where the competition sites are.

Photo 1: The 2015 UMN Soil Judging Team (l to r): Coach Ed Nater, Teng Vang, Sondra Larson, Amanda Wolff, Team Captain Rusty Zimmerman, Nick Vetsch, Luke Ratner, Leslee Jackson, Andrea Williams, and Assistant Coach Erik Schilling

After a long drive with a very long caravan of minivans and other vehicles, we arrive at the competition site - the Marcell Experimental Forest, located about 3 minutes north of Grand Rapids. This is a great site for the contest, as the landscapes and soils are very diverse, including lots of glacial till uplands and fen and bog filled depressions.

We arrive at the first two pits, which are part of the individual competition where each student competes against all others. The coaches get a quick view of the sites, which are located in sandy outwash. Instructions are given to everyone and then the students are led to the pits by the pit monitors and the coaches are taken to the Research Station Center to grade the competition scoresheets.

Photo 2. The first individual pit. An upland pit formed in sandy outwash with incipient sporadic formation. 

Photo 3. The second individual pit, formed in similar parent material, but at a lower and wetter landscape position.

After lunch the students go to the three team competition pits where they get to work together as a single team to describe the pits. These pits were located in loamy glacial till along a hillslope. The lowest pit in the sequence was very wet, the other two were significantly drier.

Photo 4. The uppermost pit of the team competition pits. The glacial till in this site is quite variable and much of it has been reworked by water. 

Photo 5. The team competition pit at the bottom of the hillslope. This pit is also formed in glacial till but was much much wetter than the two above. Heavy rains the day before necessitated the use of pallets to allow students a place to stand. 

As the results were coming into the Coaches grading area, the Minnesota scores look pretty good. We’ll  know the results in the morning at the Awards Breakfast.

Go Gophers!!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

2015 Region V Collegiate Soil Judging Contest: Day 3, Mudmucking

Our practice pits for the day were located in Glacial Lake Upham. We headed east from Grand Rapids into a pouring rain which didn’t really let up much until we got to our field site. Dan Wheeler met us there and we set off to find our first pit. After a half mile walk down a rather soggy road,

Photo 1. The road to the site was rather soggy

we got to the site - a shallow peat deposit over glaciolacustrine sediments along the bank of a drainage ditch through the bog.

About this time the rainstorm we had passed through caught back up with us. This did not daunt the Team, they were ready to go!  Judging soils in the rain has its difficulties:

The texture samples are too moist:

Photo 2: Samples collected for texturing the soil.

It’s hard to accurately judge soil colors on a cloudy day:

Photo 3. What do you think? 

We learned that even Write-In-Rain paper can't withstand a good Minnesota downpour:

Photo 4. Anyone have page 4??

And where did this waterfall come from anyway?

That's the pit face we're supposed to describe...

In spite of the wet weather and all these distraction, none of this dampened the Team’s spirits.

Photo 5: Rusty Zimmerman faves the site!

After completing the site description and discussing the results, the team moved on to our second practice pit. Although the rain had nearly stopped by now, it had clearly affected this site:

Photo 6: The pit following our morning rains.

After bailing water from the pit and removing some of the mud that had collapsed into it with whatever tools were at hand,

Photo 7. Mmmmm, mmud!

the Team got to work, describing this pit as well as they could. The pit face they were supposed to describe had collapsed into the pit, so the team excavated a new one and began to describe it.

Photo 8.  Rusty Zimmerman collects samples in the pit while the Team gets ready to describe them. 

Photo 9: Now that's what I call redoximorphic features!!!!

Photo 10. The rain has let up and the Team is going about its business. (l to r) Nick Vetsch, Andrea Williams, Sondra Larson, Teng Vang, Leslee Jackson, and Amanda Wolff. 

Photo 11. Luke Ratgen admires his work!

Good job, Team! I'm proud of you!!

Photo 12. Team members (l to r) Nick Vetsch, Sondra Larson, Rusty Zimmerman, Leslee Jackson, and Andrea Williams are pleased with their efforts. 

From there we moved on to an open peat bog where we took a peat core. For most of the students, this was the first time they had ever walked out on a boreal bog, so it was a great experience.

We had a late lunch at the Savanna Portage Restaurant in Floodwood, headed back to Grand Rapids for a well-deserved shower and a few minutes of rest, and then on to the Coaches Banquet to hear about the procedures for the Competition.

It’s getting late in the evening and we have to be ready to roll by 7:00 tomorrow morning, but the Team is busy planning their approach to the competition tomorrow and honing a few skills they’d like to sharpen. You guys rock!

We’re looking forward to the competition!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

2015 Region V Collegiate Soil Judging Contest: Day 2

Today was our second day in the pits and… WOW! The soil been crazy compared to last year’s pits in Iowa.  Interesting and diverse! Every pit at the UMN’s North Central Research and Outreach Center and the Chippewa National Forest has something interesting and I love it! So far we have practiced 4 pits individually and 3 pits as a team.  We have had pits with up to 3 parent materials, lamellae and spodic subsurface features (but not Spodosols).

As the saying goes, “Take a picture, it will last longer!”  Check out the pictures Ed Nater is posting!  I also like to joke though that the soil will last longer.

Tomorrow, we are headed out to the peat bogs and glacial lake bottoms.  Looking forward to judging my first Histosol!  All the other teams have seen it and they just don’t seem to stop talking about it.  Hopefully the weather holds off from the 90% chance of thunderstorms, but I guess that’s why we all packed rain gear!

It’s been a fun 3 days with the team judging and hanging out.  The first two team pits we did, everyone took two different roles.  We noticed quickly what was working and what wasn’t for communication and time efficiency.  Today out in the pit, we broke into more assigned roles based upon what worked smoothly.  We noted improvements we could make, but everyone has been commenting upon how they enjoyed their roles!

Thursday is competition day and the team is pretty excited.  Looking forward to seeing what the organizers have in store, so stay tuned!

— Rusty Zimmerman, Team Captain

2015 Region V Collegiate Soil Judging Contest: Day 2

The practice pits today were located in the Chippewa National Forest north of the town of Deer River, a half hour west of Grand Rapids. The first pit was located on an outwash plain under towering red pines.

The soil exposed in the first pit, which was located on a broad summit position, had a thin loess cap with an ochric epipedon, some weak development of spodic materials in the sand beneath it, and very nice thin lamellae below that, though certainly not enough to make an argillic horizon.

Photo 1. Soil profile from the first pit. 

Photo 2. Closeup showing some lamellae (dark wavy lines) in the lighter sandy matrix. 

Photo 3.  A close examination of the pit reveals many interesting features. (l to r) Leslee Jackson, Rusty Zimmerman, and Teng Vang.

The second pit was located in a footstep position and was somewhat wetter. Red maples started to appear among the red pines and a few black ash were also present. This soil was also formed in outwash with a thin loess cap. Some thin, mostly discontinuous lamellae were present, and redoximorphic features were plentiful in the lower parts of the profile.

Photo 4. The second pit was quite a bit wetter and had an incipient sporadic horizon and some well-developed redoximorphic features. 

The second set of pits were located on a broad summit a few miles away in on a glacial moraine landscape. Basswood, aspen, maple, and balsam fir were the dominant forest species. The third site of the day had a moderately thick loess cap over loamy glacial till. The texture was considerably heavier than the previous two sites. 

Photo 5. Rusty Zimmerman examines the profile for the third pit. 

Photo 6. Most of the samples have been collected and now it's time to analyze them: texture, color, consistence, effervescence, and so forth. (l to r) Sondra Larson, Andrea Williams, Amanda Wolff, Teng Vang, Leslee Jackson, and Rusty Zimmerman.

The last site was located in a footstep position near the third site. It was not officially described, but had a thin coarse-texture loess or aeolian fine sands over glaciolacustrine sediments over sandy glacial till with numerous  coarse fragments.

Tomorrow we head east to view soils formed in the Glacial Lake Upham basin near Floodwood. Many of the soils there are organic soils, which will be a new experience for all of the nearly 100 students in the competition. Should be a great experience!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

2015 Region V Collegiate Soil Judging Contest: Day 1

Today is the first day in the practice pits. We received our pit assignments yesterday evening. We were assigned 3 pits plus a bonus pit on the UMN North Central Research and Outreach Center beef cattle unit just south of Grand Rapids.

Beautiful weather greeted us on our first day in the field. The temps were nearly perfect, the skies were clear and bright, and the pits were relatively dry. Nic Jelinski provided us with 4 practice pits on the grounds of the NCROC beef cattle unit. A mix of parent materials was present on site, including Des Moines lobe glacial till, outwash, loess, glaciolacustrine sediments, and colluvium/local alluvium.

Our first pit, a glossudalf, had loess over outwash over glacial till and also featured a glossic horizon, a classic northern forest soil.

 Photo 1: Sondra Larson, Teng Vang (in shadow), Andrea Williams, and Nick Vetsch marking horizons and collecting samples in the pits.

Photo 2: Captain Rusty Zimmerman intently coloring samples.

The second soil was located downslope from the first and it also featured three parent materials, with colluvium/local alluvium over outwash over glacial till. The horizonation was also complex, with a proto-spodic horizon over a glossic horizon over an argillic. Whew!

Photo 3: Nick Vetsch (r) and Teng Vang (l) working through the complex horizonation of Pit 2 while Luke Ratgen watches from above.

The third soil, which was located on the rim of a cattail marsh, had only a single parent material, silty glaciolacustrine sediments, and the least complex horizonation of the soils present on site.
Photo 4. The profile at Pit 3. 

Photo 5. Assistant Coach Erik Schilling (r) reads out the official description. From left to right, Andrea Williams, Leslee Jackson, Sondra Larson, Luke Ratgen, Nick Vetsch, Rusty Zimmerman, Teng Vang, and Amanda Wolff check their scoresheets. 

The last soil was on a high summit which might lead one to think it was well-drained and a fairly simple profile - not true! The horizons were relatively clear, but a variety of different types of redoximorphic features were present throughout the 180cm of the profile. A very interesting pit.

Tomorrow we head to the Chippewa National Forest to look at some forested sites.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

UMN Soil Judging 2015: Getting Ready

2015 UMN Soil Judging Team Logo
The semester has just barely begun and most students are easing into their coursework, trying to get back into the groove. It's a different story for the UMN Soil Judging Team members: they hit the semester at full stride in eager anticipation of the 2015 Region V Soil Judging Competition, which comes early this year!

The 2015 Region V Soil Judging Competition will be held from 20 September - 24 September, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The University of Minnesota will be the hosting and Nic Jelinski, our 2013 and 2014 Soil Judging Team Coach, will be running the contest. Consequently, I (Ed Nater) will be coaching the team this year. I'm very pleased to have Erik Schilling, former UMN Soil Judging Team member (2012 and 2013) and graduate of the University of Minnesota, as the Assistant Coach for the competition. Dan Wheeler, Instructor in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate and Director of the UMN's Wetland Delineation Certification Program, will also join us later on in the week to help our Team hone their skills for the competition.

The 2015 Contest will be the 58th Region V Collegiate Soil Judging Contest, its longevity a testament to the importance of this experience for students! The depth of experience students gain preparing for and participating in these contests - a 4-day intensive immersion in reading landscapes, describing soil profiles and making land use interpretations - is unmatched by any other set of experiences they will have during their undergraduate degrees.

We head to Grand Rapids tomorrow and have the Welcome Dinner at 6:30 at the Sawmill Inn, where we'll be staying. We'll be in the practice pits Monday through Wednesday, the Team will be in the competition pits on Thursday, and the Awards Breakfast will be Friday morning. I and some of the team members will make regular posts to this blog throughout the competition. We hope you'll follow along and share the link with others interested in our team and their experiences.

Go Gophers!