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SOM and organically bound nutrients - turnover and stabilization (2015)

Name of course: SOM and organically bound nutrients - turnover and stabilization

ECTS credits:

Course parameters:

Language: English

Level of course: PhD course

Time of year: August to October 2015

No. of contact hours/hours in total: 100 hours in total whereof 25 are contact hours.

Capacity limits: 10 students

Objectives of the course:

The objectives of the course are to:

(i) present the latest understanding of what soil organic matter (SOM) is and how it cycles,

(ii) present new concepts of what controls the cycling of organically bound nutrients in soil,

(iii) assist students to identify key mechanisms in relation the SOM and N cycles of their own projects, and

(iv) train students writing skills.

Learning outcomes and competences:

At the end of the course, the student should be able to:

- explain the present knowledge and ideas in relation to what SOM is and how it cycles,

- explain emerging ideas of controlling factors for organic N, P and S cycling, and

- relate new knowledge of SOM and nutrient cycling to the students own project.

Compulsory program:

The students must deliver:

- active participation in journal club discussions,

- a pre-conference assignment, and

- a post-conference assignment.

Course contents:

The traditional humus concept is under question – if not rejected, and is being replaced by an emerging understanding of the complexity of what SOM is and how it is retained in soil. Alongside the focus of the N cycling in soil is moving towards improving the understanding of soil organic N (SON) and organically bound P and S cycling to predict e.g. soil fertility. The course provides a knowledge platform for understanding how the turnover of organic matter in soil plays a key role in ecosystem functioning and links to soil fertility, land use and management.

The students will in this course be introduced to novel concepts of SOM and cycling of organically bound nutrients, and relate this knowledge to own PhD-work. Furthermore the students will exercise their writing skills. The course consists three sections: a pre-conference journal club section, a SOM-conference section, and a post-conference journal club section; all three sections involved preparation of written material.

Pre-conference section: (August 2015)

The students will participate in weekly journal club meetings where key papers regarding SOM will be discussed. Each session last an hour with the first 15 minutes focused on academic writing discussion with regard to the paper in question and the rest of the time dedicated to scientific discussion. The papers for the pre-conference sections will be selected by the course lectures and will be focused on papers by key-note speakers at the SOM-conference. 

The students shall during the pre-conference section write a 1-2 page assignment focused on SOM cycling and the students own project work. The assignment shall contain 1-2 overview figures presenting the SOM and/or N cycling on which their study focuses. The work will be facilitated by Nina Høj Christiansen and Jim Rasmussen and the written work will through individual feed-back sessions lead to selection of 2-3 papers as basis for the SOM-conference section.

SOM-conference section: (September 2015)

Each student will from the SOM-conference program ( select 2-3 talks relevant for their own project. Before the conference the students will read one key-paper by each selected presenter, and present these for at the weekly journal club meetings. At the SOM-conference the student will attend the selected talks, and after the conference the student will make an assignment of 1-2 pages on how the given talks and selected papers affected their understanding of a specific part of their own work.

Participation in the SOM-conference is not mandatory to participate in the course; in the case where the student does not attend the SOM-conference, the student will instead prepare a longer written assignment based on selected literature from speakers at the SOM conference.

Post-conference section: (October 2015).

The post-conference section will be focused on discussing the students own assignments and improving these. This will be done through weekly journal club meetings, and individual feed-back and peer feed-back in smaller groups. In addition one or two key papers may be added to broaden the scientific discussion. Finally, the students shall revise their pre-conference and SOM-conference assignments and write a short assay with a section describing new knowledge they obtained at the course, and a section with reflections of own learning during the course. The final assignment will be assessed by the course lecturers and feed-back will be given on an individual basis.


The students should have a background in soil science, agricultural science, environmental science or related fields.

Name of lecturers:

Nina Høj Christiansen and Jim Rasmussen, Department of Agroecology.

Type of course/teaching methods:

Journal club group discussion sessions, individual reading and writing, peer and teacher feed-back sessions.


The literature will be selected both by the course lecturers and students based on the final program of the SOM-conference. Additionally each student shall read and give feed-back to two-three of their peers assignments.

Course homepage: None

Course assessment: The assessment will be based on the post-course assignment.

Provider: Department of Agroecology

Special comments on this course: None

Time: August to October 2015 with the SOM-conference taking place from 20 to 24 September to 2015.

Place: Research Centre Foulum, Aarhus University, Denmark and via video-link.


Deadline for registration is 31 May 2015. Information regarding admission will be given before 12 June 2015.

For registration: Jytte Christensen

If you have any questions, please contact Jim Rasmussen, e-mail:  

Comments on content: 
Revised 20.06.2016