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

Volume 2018/2019

MSc Programme in Environmental Science


This summer course of three week duration in August links theory and practice of field sampling of soil, 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.

Week 1 - Lectures, groupwork and excursion


Lectures are divided in two parts 1) introduction to of how ecosystem pools, fluxes, and processes of C, N, water and greenhouse gases are measured 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) sampling bulk precipitation, canopy throughfall and soil water samples to establish element budgets, 3) quantifying hydrological indicators, like groundwater levels and soil moisture needed in hydrological models and 4) 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.


Prior to lectures students are divided in to groups of 3-4. Each group will be given a research objective concerning either soil sampling, greenhouse gases or water. During the first week the students will design a field experiment addressing the research objective based on the provided literature, lectures and excursion. At the end of week 1 the students will present the key theoretical and practical aspects of their field experimental design to the class.


The lectures are supplemented by visits to field sites with on-going measurements of the soil, greenhouse gases and water in the soil.

Week 2 - Field study and laboratory work

A 3-day field study is performed where the student groups formed in week 1 will work together. The students will get a hands-on experience with the sampling theory and use all techniques presented to sample soil, greenhouse gases and water. The sampling will be done in different types of land uses found in Denmark, e.g. forest, heath/grasslands and wetlands with different soil types in order to highlight the specific needs for field sampling protocols and techniques in a given environmental context.

After the field study the students will have two days to process samples in simple laboratory exercises that aim to demonstrate the initial characterisation and preparation of soil and water samples before further analysis.

Week 3 - Report writing and presentation

In the the final week of the course the collected data for soil, greenhouse gases and water will be analyzed with basic, widely applied statistical methods to synthesize field data. These data form the backbone of a written report (15-20 pages) where the student groups will present and discuss the data in relation to the course literature and experience from the field work.

The final day of the course the student groups will present one topic relating to the either sampling of soil, greenhouse gases or water for the class.

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, atmospheric deposition, water balance, soil acidification, soil physics.

Learning Outcome


  • describe commonly used methods and equipment for sampling soil, water and gas
  • demonstrate the field use of the methods and equipment
  • discuss theory of sampling design



  • work independently with the field use of sampling methods used under field conditions in in environmental science
  • evaluate the pros and cons of using specific equipment to sample soil, vegetation, water and greenhouse gases
  • apply the sampling methodology in the field
  • design a problem-oriented scientific field sampling protocol



  • project-oriented work in relation to field work
  • groupwork focusing on collecting data in the field and lab
  • 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 field data using graphic and statistical techniques
  • synthesize results 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 recommended.
Lectures, excursions, field exercises, groupwork and seminars.
The students will present group work on a case study objective as well as the results of 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
Continuous assessment throughout the course.
Presentation 1: The student groups will have two full days of preparation to make the first presentation for the class. It is expected that the literature has been studied prior to the course start.
Written report: The report can be started in week 1 and worked on in week 2 and for four full days in week 3. The report must be based on the topics og the field Work.
Presentation 2: The material from the written report can be reused to a large extent in the second presentation. The groups will have six hours preparation on the last day of the course to compile a presentation on one specific subject of their report.
In order to pass the course, the students must participate at least 80 % during the three weeks of course. A combined grade is given at the end of the course.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
passed/not passed
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners

20 minutes oral examination without preparation covering the general curriculum.


Criteria for exam assesment

See learning outcome