Three-dimensional soil landscape modeling: A potential earth science teaching

Three-dimensional visualization is helpful in understanding soils, and three dimensional (3-D) tools are gaining popularity in teaching earth sciences. Those tools are still somewhat underused in soil science, yet soil properties such as texture, color, and organic carbon content vary both vertically and horizontally across the landscape. These properties can be realistically modeled and visualized using a 3-D geographic information system (GIS). This type of visualization offers instructors a unique method to deliver soil landscape information to students. The objectives of this article were to: (1) explore 3-D landscape modeling to visualize pedological properties and processes on a well understood loess landscape in western Iowa, and (2) evaluate the feasibility of the model as an instructional tool. The modeled site is a 2.1-ha field that was intensively characterized both in the field and in the laboratory. These data were used to build 3-D soil landscape models that demonstrate the pedological properties and processes central to the site. As a costeffective alternative, soil survey information was substituted for field collected data and used for model creation. While there are slight visual differences between the two models, they were not pedologically significant, and more importantly did not undermine the teaching or learning of concepts and processes inherent to the site. This study illustrates how 3-D soil landscape models could be beneficial to students, but explains that instructors must seriously consider the amount of time and money they are willing to invest in creating these models.

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