Current research

Find out more about our current research into soils and how we are making new datasets to assess and safeguard this valuable resource.

If you would like to collaborate with us in soil research, or become involved in the development of this soil portal please contact us: BGS enquiries or CEH enquiries.

Current projects

Properties and processes of soil

Cosmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing System (COSMOS)
cosmos

Soil moisture is highly variable due to the heterogeneous nature of soils, vegetation & the landscape topography; this project investigates the application of new sensors to large-scale integrated measurement of soil moisture, addressing the problem of up-scaling point measurements. The CRS-1000 soil moisture probe (COSMOS) is a unique state-of-the-art instrument, utilising novel technology to provide soil moisture measurements over hundreds of metres. enabling comparison and validation of models and of satellite Earth Observation products.

The aim of this CEH project is to improve the representation and validation of soil moisture in both climate models and run-off/flood prediction models through the provision of more representative data with which to test the models.

For further details contact Jonathan Evans.

Estimating the stock of soil inorganic carbon across England
Carbonate map.

Scientists from BGS and CEH are using measurements from soil samples collected across England to estimate the amount of inorganic carbon in the soil; changes in the amount of carbon in the soil is important for our understanding of climate change.

Scientists tend to focus on the organic carbon component in soils and ignore the inorganic carbon in carbonate minerals. The focus in this study is on England because this is where scientists expect the vast majority of the inorganic carbon to occur; the geology and climate of Wales and Scotland mean that little inorganic carbon occurs in the soil.

The carbonate map shows the areas across England where we would expect the largest quantities of carbonate to occur in the soil. This is because the underlying rock contains carbonate and also rainfall in these areas tends to be low enough so that the carbonate is not removed by water flowing through the soil.

Rather than measure the inorganic carbon in the soil which is expensive to do, scientists are using measurements of other soil components to make accurate estimates of inorganic carbon.

For further details contact Barry Rawlins.

 

ExpeER
ExpeER - Ecosystems Research

Three NERC research sites were accepted to be part of the European project (2010-2014) for the Experimentation in Ecosystem Research. ExpeER will, for the first time, federate existing national infrastructures, improve their research capacity, and facilitate access to those experimental and observational platforms. By uniting these highly instrumented ecosystem research facilities under the same umbrella and with a common vision, ExpeER will provide a framework for the science community researching terrestrial ecosystems. Within the European Research Area, ExpeER is making an effort to standardize methodologies to improve scientific communication and performance of these research sites in a durable and sustainable manner. The three NERC research locations selected to be part of this European initiative are Moore House (England), Whim (Scotland), and Plynlimon (Wales).

ExpeER has a program called Transnational Access designed to boost the cooperation among scientists and the acquisition and delivery of high-quality data, for this purpose there are some grants available to support travelling and expenses for scientist to visit the different research sites. For more information visit the ExpeER website or contact Inma Robinson (inmbin@ceh.ac.uk).

 

Soil chemistry maps of England and Wales

The BGS soil chemistry maps of England and Wales inform on the ambient background concentrations (ABC) of the potentially harmful elements (PHE) arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), nickel (Ni) and lead (Pb) in topsoils. Data is derived by spatial interpolation of geochemical soil and stream sediment data within delineations of parent material polygons.

 

Soil geochemical survey of the Clyde Basin

Mapping of rural and urban soils in Glasgow and the Clyde catchment as part of the BGS Clyde Urban Super Project.

 

Soils in urban environments

Mapping chemical baseline concentrations of some 50 elements in urban areas. Visit BGS urban geochemistry or London Earth for more information.

Hydrogeophysical imaging of soil spatial processes
Hydrogeophysical imaging of soil spatial processes

A major impediment to our understanding of flood hydrology, productivity, and the ecosystem services provided by soils is a quantitative understanding of the spatial distribution of soil properties at field scales. Geophysical imaging of soils offers the potential to identify soil natural capital in its spatial context, in particular identifying links between biogeochemical and biological communities. The aim of this NERC (CEH/BGS) project is to use non-invasive time-lapse electrical and electromagnetic imaging to tease apart static (texture) from 'dynamic' (moisture) soil properties. Measurements of soil properties in this project will help interpret existing geophysical data in terms of soil biophysical properties. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the accurate reconstruction of the depth dependence of the physical properties.

For further details contact David Robinson.

SoilTrec
SoilTrec

The NERC (CEH) site at Plynlimon has been included as a satellite 'Critical Zone' site within the new European SoilTrEC project which aims to investigate and model the processes determining soil sustainability in Europe. Data from the site will be used to test biogeochemical and nutrient models for SoilTrEC work packages 2 and 3. Plynlimon is part of an international network of sites, located over similar geological units, studying processes of soil development across climatic and land use gradients under the US National Science Foundation funded Critical Zone Exploration Network.

For further details contact Brian Reynolds.

Climate change and soil

Climate change manipulation experiments to measure and model changes in soil carbon pools
Mid infra red diffuse reflectance spectra of soil samples from climate change manipulation experiments. Click to enlarge.

The aim of this project is to determine whether there are detectable changes in the quantities of carbon in three main soil organic carbon pools from an ongoing climate manipulation experiment established by CEH scientists.

The experimental plots in North Wales have been subject to passive night time warming or reduced precipitation inputs (using retractable screens) whilst control sites respond to natural climate. Scientists from the BGS are using spectroscopic techniques to quantify soil carbon in: i) particulate, ii) stabilised and iii) inert soil carbon pools.

The spectra of soil samples collected from the plots can then be used to determine whether there have been changes in the sizes of the carbon pools which have been subject to warming or drying. This may help to refine models of soil carbon turnover.

Features in the mid infra red spectra of a soil sample (see graph) can be used to estimate the magnitude of soil carbon pools.

For further details contact Barry Rawlins.

CARBO-Extreme
carbo-extreme

Carbo-Extreme is an EU-funded international project which aims to 1)obtain a more comprehensive predictive understanding of terrestrial carbon cycle responses to climate variability and extreme weather events for European ecosystems. 2) Identify the most sensitive and vulnerable carbon pools and processes to climate variability and extreme events. 3) Map the most likely trajectory of carbon pools in Europe over the 21st century.

The project is led by MPI-Jena. The role of NERC (CEH) is twofold: leading the model-data fusion aspects of the project based on Bayesian techniques developed by CEH in earlier projects and providing data and analysis with regard to the fluxes of dissolved carbon in organic soils.

For further details contact Marcel Van Oijen.

Long term climate change and N deposition experiments
peaknaze

The Climoor (Clocaenog) and Peaknaze Recovery Roof fieldsites are NERC(CEH) environment- manipulation experiments that reproduce the potential changes in climate and pollution reduction for upland habitats in the UK. The sites utilise automated 'roof' technology to control aspects of rainfall, soil moisture and warmth within a series of experimental plots. The Climoor fieldsite, established in 1998, is one of the longest running climate change experiments in the UK with large-scale warming and repeated summer drought manipulations. The Peaknaze site, operational since 2005, includes additional pollution recovery and soil moisture experiments alongside the climate manipulations; it is one of the few manipulation experiments comparing climate change and pollution scenarios.

For further details contact Andy Smith

Storing and disseminating gridded river flow and soil moisture estimates for the G2G for current and future climate scenarios

The aim of this CEH project is to assess the historical estimates of soil-moisture from the Grid-to-Grid (G2G) model against observations to provide accurate, 1km resolution spatially-coherent soil-moisture estimates for the UK. If historical estimates can be generated by the G2G model this provides confidence in its ability to predict soil-moisture under possible future climates. The project also involves a significant amount of data rescue and these data will eventually be made available through the CEH Information Gateway.

For further details contact Vicky Bell.

CARBO-BIOCROP
CARBO-BIOCROP

Carbo-BioCrop aims to improve understanding of how land-use change to second generation bioenergy crops such as short rotation coppice (SRC) and Miscanthus will influence the UK greenhouse gas balance via their influence on soil carbon emissions. This will provide key data to under-pin the production of 'carbon opportunity maps' for the UK and identify the GHG balance implications of land-use change to bioenergy crops. NERC (CEH) is leading Work Package 3, using process-based modelling to enable predictive understanding of long-term carbon and GHG fluxes in bioenergy cropping systems.and developing an improved understanding of the pools and fluxes of soil organic carbon following land use change to bioenergy crops.

For further details contact Jon Finch.

Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry Green House Gas Inventory
Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry Green House Gas Inventory

This project delivers the data for the annual national inventories, and projections into the future, for green house gas emissions by sources and removals by sinks associated with Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). Fluxes of carbon dioxide e.g. caused by afforestation, can be used by signatories to the Kyoto Protocol as an offset in reaching internationally agreed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This DECC-funded project, operated by CEH, delivers the data required for the UK to use this mechanism to help achieve its target 12.5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, compared with 1990.

For further details contact Heath Malcolm.

Carbon Catchments

The CEH Carbon Catchments are a network of four UK peatland sites (Forsinard, Auchencorth Moss, Moor House, Conwy) which aim to quantify the overall carbon balance of individual peatlands . This involves linking long-term measurements of land-atmosphere carbon flux to downstream fluxes of particulate, dissolved and gaseous forms of carbon in rivers. The carbon balances of individual peatlands are based on high quality, reliable flux data, leading to an empirical understanding of the factors controlling these fluxes. Each site is unique in its land-use and history; collectively the network therefore provides a long-term basis for estimating the sink strength of peatlands under different climate and management scenarios.

For further details contact Mike Billett.

Climate change manipulation experiments to measure and model changes in soil carbon pools

The aim of this project is to determine whether there are detectable changes in the quantities of carbon in three main soil organic carbon pools from an ongoing climate manipulation experiment established by CEH scientists .

The project uses spectroscopic techniques to quantify soil carbon in: i) particulate, ii) stabilised and iii) inert soil carbon pools. determining whether there have been changes in the sizes of the carbon pools.This may help to refine models of soil carbon turnover.

For further details contact Barry Rawlins.

Estimating the stock of soil inorganic carbon across England
This carbonate map shows the areas across England where we would expect the largest quantities of carbonate to occur in the soil

Scientists from BGS and CEH are using measurements from soil samples collected across England to estimate the amount of inorganic carbon in the soil; changes in the amount of carbon in the soil is important for our understanding of climate change.

The project focuses on areas of England where we would expect the largest quantities of carbonate to occur in the soil; typically where parent materials are rich in carbonate and also where rainfall is low enough so that the carbonate is not removed by water flowing through the soil.

For further details contact Barry Rawlins.

Ecosystems, diversity and soil

EcoFINDERS
ecofinders
The strategic goal of the EU-funded EcoFINDERS project is to support European Union soil policy making by providing the necessary tools to design and implement strategies for sustainable use of soils.
NERC (CEH) are leading the first work package of this programme which will assess the range, extent and variation of soil biodiversity, measures necessary for predicting biological responses and resilience of soils to environmental change. We will use a range of standardised, high-throughput molecular and morphological methods to characterise the biological diversity, distribution, and function of soil organisms (micro-, meso- and macrofauna).
For further details contact Mark Bailey.
Ecosystem function of river islands
peaknaze

Island biogeography theory (IBT) and niche partitioning provide mechanisms explaining the governance of community diversity. Disturbance (e.g., flooding) can further modify community structure by differentially affecting species according to their traits. It is less clear whether habitat area, habitat heterogeneity, and disturbance can influence ecosystem function mediated by variation in biodiversity. Using a highly dynamic river island ecosystem we will test how these three mechanisms affect soil ecosystem function (litter decomposition and soil respiration rates) and state (soil C, N, P, & pH) via changes, across trophic levels, to functional (e.g. FD) and taxonomic (e.g. species richness) diversity of the decomposer arthropod community.

This CEH project will determine the conservation value of these islands with potentially wider policy ramifications, for exampleSSSI or SAC designations.

For further details contact Adam Vanbergen.

Pollution and soil

Typical soil contaminant concentrations

The Background Concentrations of Contaminants in Soils (BCCS) Project is a Defra sponsored project (October 2011 — March 2012, SP1008) to determine 'normal' concentrations of contaminants in English soils.

The G-BASE soil samples form an important part of this research along with chemical results from other regional soil surveys of varying spatial scales (e.g. UK Soil and Herbage Pollutant Survey and FOREGS).

The work seeks to add clarity to the contaminated land regime through a simplification of the contaminated land statutory guidance (amended Part IIA).

As part of this project a definition of a contaminant's normal background concentration in soil will be developed to help to more clearly define soils that are not contaminated and help focus resources on dealing with the contaminated land that is an environmental and health risk.

Mercury Critical Loads
Mercury Critical Loads

This DEFRA-funded project, operated by CEH, provides a UK-wide assessment of the effects of atmospherically deposited Mercury (Hg) on soils. Using collated and mapped soil mercury levels to provide estimations of toxic threats to soil organisms, and models of the dynamics of Hg in soils. Mercury emission-control requires international cooperation and agreement, and the research results of this project will contribute to DEFRA's negotiations, UK soils currently hold 2490 tonnes of reactive Hg, of which 2140 tonnes are due to anthropogenic deposition, mostly local in origin. Topsoil currently releases 5.1 tonnes of Hg0 per annum to the atmosphere, about 50% more than the anthropogenic flux. Following decreases in inputs, soil Hg concentrations are predicted to decline over hundreds of years.

For further details contact Edward Tipping.

Heavy Metals Deposition
Heavy Metals Deposition

The Defra-funded Rural Heavy Metals Monitoring Network, operated by NERC (CEH), comprises a total of 14 sites where samples of air (PM10),and rainwater are collected from rural areas to determine the background concentrations of 27 different heavy metals. The data are compiled to provide information of the background concentrations of these pollutants, their annual deposition, and to demonstrate compliance with relevant air quality legislation. CEH also calculates deposition and concentration of heavy metals from samples of moss collected from sites across the whole of the UK. Some work currently under development aims to separate out the geogenic and anthropogenic signals in heavy metal deposition in the UK. The data from this project are available from DEFRA.

For further details contact Heath Malcom.

Mechanistic bases of metal and metalloid tolerance of the soil fauna inhabiting metalliferous soils: linking phenotypic characteristics to the genome (and epigenome).
Mechanistic bases of metal and metalloid tolerance of the soil fauna inhabiting metalliferous soils: linking phenotypic characteristics to the genome (and epigenome).

Because of importance and vulnerability of soil fauna to environmental threats, policy makers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to understand the tolerance limits of soil fauna and their ability to adapt to change. To gain a better mechanistic understanding of tolerance, the soil ecotoxicology group at CEH Wallingford is involved in collaborative studies (with Cardiff and Edinburgh Universities and Imperial College) to establish the mechanisms by which invertebrate (earthworm) populations adapt to elevated trace metal concentrations. By studying sensitivity to trace metal stress and adaptive responses at long-term polluted sites, the project team are establishing the extent of tolerance development. To link phenotype to genotype, detailed approach to both phenotypic characterisation and genotyping are being applied to both field collected individuals and F0, F1 and F2 worms from designed pedigree study to allow the team to link tolerant traits to underlying changes in the genome.

For further details contact Dave Spurgeon.

NanoFATE
NanoFATE

NERC (CEH) is co-ordinating the EU FPVII project Nanoparticle Fate Assessment and Toxicity in the Environment (NanoFATE). This multi-institute project will fill knowledge and methodological gaps that currently impede the assessment of the environmental risks posed by engineered nanoparticles (ENPs). The vision of NanoFATE is to assess fate and risk for ENPs from high-volume products for which recycling is not an option; namely; fuel additive, personal care and antibacterial products. An important research component of the project is to understand the behaviour of nanoparticles in the environment and in particular the partitioning of nanoparticles between soil applied with sludge and effluent waters during wastewater processing, and subsequently. the uptake of ENPs by organisms and their toxic effects.

For further details contact Claus Svendsen.

Transatlantic Initiative for Nanotechnology and the Environment (TINE)
Transatlantic Initiative for Nanotechnology and the Environment (TINE)

The Transatlantic Initiative for Nanotechnology and the Environment (TINE) is a collaborative project under the Joint US -UK Research Program: Environmental Behaviour, Bioavailability and Effects of Manufactured Nanomaterials (MNMs). This multi-institute project aims to address critical areas of uncertainty related to the fate, transport, and effects of MNMs introduced into the environment CEH's contribution to TINE comprises assessment of aqueous exposure of earthworms to silver, zinc oxide and titanium oxide nanoparticles, and to silver and zinc ions in media of varying chemical composition; results will be used to develop Biotic Ligand Models and a new model proposed to account for unique properties of MNMs, the Particle Biotic Receptor Model (pBRM). Collaboratively, we will develop nanoparticle toxicity models for earthworms, plants and microbes based on the results across the consortium.

For further details contact Steve Lofts.

Contributors

BGS logo CEH logo

Search
Latest News

The NERC Soil Portal is being enhanced to include many other partners to become the UK Soil Observatory (UKSO). The UKSO launch will be on the 10th April in London. To find out more please contact enquiries@ceh.ac.uk.


This site is hosted by the British Geological Survey but responsibility for the content of the site lies with the NERC Soil Portal not with the British Geological Survey, Questions, suggestions or comments regarding the contents of this site should be directed to Russell Lawley.