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Dr Heather Buss


Dr Buss currently teaches 5 courses:


Year 2 Soils and The Critical Zone: This is a core unit for Environmental Geoscience students (and an option for Palaeontology and Evolution) and provides an introduction to the biology, mineralogy, chemistry and physics of soils, including how soils form and evolve, methods of soil classification, the global distribution of soil types, the diversity and role of macro- and micro-organisms in soils, and how moisture and heat move within soils. The unit takes a modern approach by placing soils in the integrated framework of critical zone science, wherein the entire portion of the terrestrial Earth that supports life (the critical zone) is viewed from a holistic perspective where compartments (such as soils) and their processes and interfaces are part of the whole system. Key aims of the unit will be to learn the basics of soil science as listed above as well as the feedbacks between soil processes and other parts of the critical zone and the implications of these feedbacks for soil sustainability and functions, regional and global biogeochemical cycles, and climate feedbacks.

The unit is comprised of 3 hours of lectures and 3 hours of practical work each week, for 5 weeks. The practicals consist of laboratory analyses of soil samples collected in a local field trip taken in the first week. Coursework entails producing a scientific report based on the data collected during practicals and the field trip and interpreting these results in the context of soil formation and land use. This report helps to prepare students to write their research dissertations in Year 3. 

Year 2 Environmental Geoscience Field Skills: This is a core unit for Environmental Geoscience students and is conducted as a one-week residential field class in Tenerife, Spain. Tenerife provides an ideal environment for the field study of soil development and plant ecology in the context of geology, topography, and climate. There are numerous soil types, microclimates, topographic and geological variations, and vegetation types over a very small land area. The students study soil formation in the context of local geloogy, climate, topography, and vegetation; practice collecting and recording detailed and useful field notes; gain experience describing, identfiying and interpreting soils; learn how to identify plants and relate them to environmental variables; and produce a website as part of a group effort that records observations and experiences during the field class. It is also a lot of fun!

Year 3 Geomicrobiology: This is an optional unit for students in the School of Earth Sciences and provides an overview of concepts, techniques, and issues in geomicrobiology as they relate to environmental geosciences. Aims: to learn about and examine microbial properties, metabolisms, diversity and abundance in the natural environment; to appreciate the coupling of biological with chemical and physical processes in the natural environment; to examine specific ways in which microorganisms create or contribute to normal geological processes, environmental problems, and remediation of environmental problems; and to summarise current techniques for assessing microbial influences on the environment.

The unit is comprised of 3 hours of lectures and 3 hours of practical work each week, for 5 weeks. The practicals consist of problem sets and an experiment in which students cultivate different types of microorganisms from water samples collected from around Bristol. The students produce a short report based on the experimental results assessing the implications for water quality in the context of the water's usage. 

Year 3 Environmental Geoscience Research Projects (Dissertations): This is a core unit for Environmental Geoscience students and represents a capstone project for those on the BSc programme. In this unit students undertake and experience the process of conducting an independent research investigation integrating field, laboratory and computational methods. Each year, 4 or more projects are offered; each project is supervised by one or two members of staff and can be done by 4 to 5 students. Although some aspects of the project work may be conducted as a group (e.g. data gathering during fieldwork), each student completes their own literature review, laboratory experiments, synthesis of data, computational work and write-up. Prior to undertaking project-specific field work, all students participate in a 5 day non-residential group field trip in the local area in which they develop hypotheses, design sampling and analysis strategies, and collect and analyse data in the field.

Supervisor for Year 4 MSci projects and PhD projects

Personal tutoring Years 1-4: The overall role of the Personal Tutor is to act as a first point of contact within the University from whom the individual tutee can obtain academic and pastoral support. Tutors effectively support student learning by: (i) helping the tutee to develop effective study skills and habits, (ii) reviewing overall academic progress and providing feedback and advice, (iii) helping the tutee to understand relevant University rules and regulations, (iv) helping and advising the tutee, where appropriate, in University processes affecting him/her.