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Academic year
Didactic period
Secondo Semestre

Training objectives

The main objective of this class is the understanding of the interactions occurring between natural environment and food production activities, with emphasis on both the impacts that these activities have on natural systems and on their possible mitigation, in the perspective of a sustainable agriculture and of fighting the ongoing climate crisis.
The class will be a path of knowledge starting from the Biosphere (intended as the ensemble of the life-hosting areas of the Earth: the upper part of the lithosphere, the hydrosphere and the first strata of the atmosphere) and its dynamics, passing through the various human agro-food production activities and ending with the bearings (interactions, modifications and adverse effects) that these activities have on the Biosphere itself. The student will learn practices, means and strategies to reduce the impacts of agriculture as well as the analytical methods and data processing applicable to hydro-agro-food materials.
In the view of food security and production protection, with particular reference to excellences and Made-in-Italy, part of the class will focus on territoriality and traceability of agro-food products, showing the relationships between the soil, the climate, the agricultural practices and the geochemical “footprint” of the various cultivars.
A great emphasis will be given to the knowledge of causes and effects of the climate change, in particular the contribution of the agro-food sector in the GHG emissions, with the aim of interpreting the on-going climate emergency and stimulating the finding of innovative and effective solutions to one of the biggest challenges for the modern society.


Knowledge acquired in the classes of Chemistry, Geochemistry, Petrography and Mineralogy, together with the knowledge of the main analytical methods for geo-materials.

Course programme

The class is divided into 24 lessons of 2 hours, for a total of 48 hours.
- Basic elements of geochemistry and petrography
Overview on rock composition, alteration, weathering and hydrolysis processes; relationships between rock and sediment chemical composition and water chemistry. Geochemical cycles of the elements and their anthropogenic modifications. The main stable isotopes and their applications to hydro-agro-food systems.
- Soil habitat
Genesis and physical characteristics of soils; formation of soil habitat and its different observation scales. Chemistry of circulating solutions; interactions between environment factors, temperature, humidity and climate. Soil biodiversity: microfauna, mesofauna, macrofauna and their role in the soil ecosystem.
- Bio-geochemical cycles of the main elements of the hydro-agro-food systems
The Nitrogen cycle; methods to measure N species in soils and to quantify N transformation rates. The Carbon cycle; mentions on soil organic matter formation and dynamics. The Phosphorus cycle.
- Agriculture and environment
The development of agriculture from 1900 to nowadays; the main agricultural practices, both intensive and integrated, organic and biodynamic. The impacts of agricultural practices on the environment. Methods to mitigate the negative impacts (zootechnical effluent treatment, not-tillage, minimum tillage techniques, precision agriculture, etc…). Mention to soilless crop production.
Organic and inorganic conditioners to improve the properties of soil and cultivation substrata. Natural zeolites as agricultural soil conditioners, their effects on the water/air/soil system. Examples of good practices involving natural zeolites application (ZeoLIFE and ZEOLIVA projects).
Natural zeolites for agri-food effluents treatment: adsorption isotherms, adsorption models and their interpretations.
- Rock, soil, water and gas sampling techniques; analytical and statistical methods
Sampling techniques for rocks, soils, interstitial waters and gaseous emissions from soils. Chemical analyses of hydro-agro-food materials.
Introduction to statistical analyses (parametric and non-parametric tests, ANOVA, Kruskal-Wallis, Tukey and Fisher multiple comparison tests, correlation matrixes).
Practical exercises
Sampling of soils in the garden of the Polo Scientifico/Tecnologico or in project test sites. Lab analyses of some physical-chemical parameters of the samples. Database creation, data processing and elaboration.
- Hydro-agro-food systems and climate change
Climate change: causes and effects according to the most recent IPCC reports. Main GHG, their current and pre-industrial atmospheric concentrations. The expected trends in the various modelled future scenarios.
Extreme weather events and their consequences for the Mediterranean Basin. Drought, flash floods, supercells and tornadoes: recent Italian and worldwide episodes and their environmental and economic consequences.
The contribution of agro-food activities to climate change. GHG emissions from the agricultural and livestock sectors. The sixth mass extinction. Spontaneous and anthropogenic gaseous emissions in Italy and in the Po Plain. Case studies and examples.
- The traceability of agro-food products
Geochemical characterization of cultivars. Soil-plant assimilation, territorial geochemical and isotopic markers and their variation in correlation to climatic conditions and rainfall regimes. Notion of territoriality and traceability of various agro-food products. Influence of agricultural practices on traceability. Case studies and examples.

Didactic methods

The course is divided into a series of classroom lessons and includes a series of practical exercises both in open-field, in lab and with the use of Excel program.
Classroom lessons will be carried out using ppt presentations, always updated, that will be provided to the students at the end of each teaching module.

Learning assessment procedures

The final exam will consist in the oral presentation of a scientific research (chosen among the scientific papers provided by the teacher) as if it was carried out by the student.
The student should prove to be capable of reproducing calculations, modeling and graphic elaborations and of discussing results and conclusions in front of an informed public (class students and Ph.D students). During the presentation, the student will also be asked to explain the various topics treated in the class, relative to the presented scientific research.

Reference texts

The student will be provided of the slides used during the course (in pdf format), of scientific papers and of audio-video files; all materials and links will be put in the teacher website.
Recommended texts are:
- Faure G., 1998. "Principles and Applications of Geochemistry", 2nd ed., Prentice Hall.
- Dazzi C., 2003. “Fondamenti di Pedologia”, Edizioni Le Penseur.