Texas A&M faculty member takes soil judging skills to international level

Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, skledbetter@ag.tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. Cristine Morgan, 979-845-3603, cmorgan@ag.tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – Dr. Cristine Morgan took her soil expertise “down under” and came back with a request to help coordinate an international collegiate soil judging contest in Korea in 2014.

Students assess the soil properties under the guidance of Texas A&M University soil judging coach Dr. Christine Morgan during a judging competition. (Photo by Dr. Cristine Morgan)

Students assess the soil properties under the guidance of Texas A&M University soil judging coach Dr. Cristine Morgan during a judging competition. (Photo by Dr. Cristine Morgan)

Morgan, a Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences department associate professor, traveled with two students, Haly Neely and Dianna Bagnall, to New Zealand for the Soil Science Society of America’s 2012 Kirkham Conference in Soil Physics.

The team then traveled to Tasmania, where they assisted with the first collegiate soil judging contest at the Joint Australian and New Zealand Soil Science Conference.

“Their conference officials had visited some of our contests, and they invited us to come assist them and be ambassadors,” said Morgan, who is the Texas A&M soil judging team coach. She also helped coach the University of Sydney’s team after the team’s coach couldn’t be there.

“The fun thing about these contests is they really generate enthusiasm for soil sciences,” Morgan said. “It reminds me of why I got into the discipline.”

Now, she said, soil judging is going international, and Texas A&M, under Morgan’s leadership, will be coordinating the contest at the International Union of Soil Sciences 20th World Congress of Soil Science in June 2014 in Jeju Island, Korea.

“Soil judging gets the students into the field, looking at soils and assessing appropriate land management,” Morgan said. “It helps them know both the limitations and resources that the soils on that particular piece of land provide. It’s important to be able to look at soil, assess the properties and understand what type of septic system is right. That’s what soil judging does.”

Morgan’s specialty is soil hydrology and pedology, working with sensor development for proximal sensing of soil properties. She has joint projects with scientists in Sydney. Neely and Bagnall are working on the hydrology of cracking soils, something that Texas and Australia have in common.

A vertisol is a type of soil with a high clay content that is prone to cracking, and “we work in modeling that hydrology and the water movement through those cracks,” Morgan said. “These soils either infiltrate water very slowly or infiltrate high volumes of water rapidly, depending on soil moisture.

“We don’t have a good model of how the water moves through these soils, so we are trying to identify that process.”

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