NIGK15000U Sampling the Soil Environment – Carbon, Nitrogen, Water and Greenhouse Gases

Volume 2015/2016

The course links theory and practice of field sampling of major terrestrial pools and fluxes of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), greenhouse gases and water in the soil-vegetation-atmosphere interface. The aim of the course is to enable the student to choose field sampling methods, demonstrate ability to use these methods and associated equipment, and compare and discuss strengths, weaknesses and shortcomings of them.

Lectures are divided in two parts 1) introduction to ecosystem pools, fluxes, and processes of C, N, water and greenhouse gases and, 2) theory of sampling design in the field and introduction to statistical methods, including spatial statistics. During the lecture week recurrent showcases of the instrumentation used in the field course are held and the practical use of state-of-the-art sampling techniques is demonstrated. This includes: 1) sampling of soil and organic matter to determine organic and inorganic C and N pools, 2) measuring belowground root biomass, 3) sampling bulk precipitation, canopy throughfall and soil water samples to establish element budgets, 4) quantifying hydrological indicators, like groundwater levels and soil moisture needed in hydrological models and 5) estimating the soil gas levels and the soil-atmosphere exchange of greenhouse gases to assess the ecosystem feedback to the climate by different land-use interactions. A field study is performed where the introduced sampling design theory is implemented and the students get a hands-on experience with the sampling techniques presented for soil, water and greenhouse gases. The sampling will be done for major land uses in Denmark, e.g. forest, agriculture and wetlands on soil types of different geological origin in order to highlight the specific needs for field sampling protocols and techniques in a given environmental context. The course will be finalized with data processing where the findings will be visualized with graphic tools and analyzed with basic, widely applied statistical methods to synthesize field data.

The topics of the course include: Field sampling techniques, field sampling design, spatial statistics, biogeochemical cycles of C and N, greenhouse gas exchange of CO2, N2O and CH4, soil chemistry, pedology, soil hydrology, forest hydrology, surface waters, pollution, ecosystem services, energy balance, climate change, land use change, atmospheric deposition, water balance, soil acidification, soil physics.

Learning Outcome


  • explain state-of-the-art theory in environmental field sampling design
  • understand how environmental data from terrestrial ecosystems are obtained in the field through hands-on experience
  • aware of which tools that exist in order to make the right decision when designing a field sampling protocol



  • work independently and confidently with state-of-the-art sampling methods used under field conditions in in environmental science
  • weigh the pros and cons of using specific equipment to sample soil, vegetation, water and greenhouse gases
  • perform the sampling in the field



  • design a field sampling protocol for a research based master study
  • choose the correct techniques to obtain a representative sample of soil, water or greenhouse gases
  • analyze and synthesize the data using proper statistical techniques
  • summarize their results from the field sampling in a written report and oral presentation

Selected book chapters, reports and journal papers are presented on Absalon.

A general background in environmental science, including insight in ecosystem ecology, soil and water processes is required.
Lectures, field exercises, groupwork and seminars. The students will present results from the field work in a written report and oral presentation to the class.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Field Work
  • 50
  • Lectures
  • 35
  • Preparation
  • 70
  • Project work
  • 46
  • Theory exercises
  • 5
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment under invigilation
Continuous assessment throughout the course.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
passed/not passed
Censorship form
No external censorship
Exam period

Several internal examiners.


Short written report (approx. 5 pages) to be handed in prior to the re-examination week, internal examiners.

Criteria for exam assesment

In order to pass the course the students must demonstrate that they can

  • critically assess and orally present complex scientific literature in relation to environmental sampling
  • design and sample a field experiment with appropriate methods
  • summarize and orally present their findings in written and oral formats


The required output per student is preparation of 2 presentations and 1 written report (10-15 pages per student)