Lowland soil and groundwater management — Shelford Earth Observatory

The Shelford Earth Observatory was originally used to develop skills in the construction of 3D soil maps of the near surface environment. The site of the observatory which is predominantly used for arable agriculture covers an area of about 1.5 km² close to the village of Shelford, near Radcliffe on Trent, Nottinghamshire(see aerial photo below). The site survey was carried out along an approx. 500 m wide traverse.

The 3D model below shows the site underlain by mudstones (pink and grey) with siltstone bands (green) and sandstone(red). At surface a sequence of colluvium (brown), river terrace(pale yellow) and alluvial (yellow) deposits are found towards the River Trent.

3D model shows the site underlain by mudstones with siltstone bands and sandstone.  Aerial photo of the Shelford Earth Observatory Project area.

Shallow groundwater–alluvial / terrace soil interactions

The site is currently being used as a basis of several studies as it offers an excellent opportunity to study shallow groundwater–alluvial / terrace soil interactions in an area liable to flooding.

The BGS Groundwater modelling team is developing a groundwater model for the area. A series of piezometers installed across a wide area in the sands, gravels and alluvium allows monitoring of groundwater movements and hydrochemistry. In addition, aspects of C, N and P biogeochemistry in the soil, regolith and sediments are under investigation.

Projects being undertaken elsewhere include a study examining soil-regolith properties and weathering processes of the Sherwood Sandstone outcrop in Nottinghamshire using archived borehole data and samples.

Another study undertaken with Simon Kemp has assessed long-term (~150 yrs) changes in clay mineralogy in soils from the Rothamsted Classical Experiments under different management practices and changing land-use (e.g. reforestation).


Typical XRD spectra after decomposition modelling on <0.02μm clay fraction from the Park Grass Experiment, Rothamsted.
Typical XRD spectra after decomposition modelling on <0.02μm clay fraction from the Park Grass Experiment, Rothamsted.

PhD projects

Associated PhD projects include links with the University of Nottingham, University of Reading and INSTAAR, University of Colorado in Boulder. Topics include (i) Pb bio-availability in drained peat soils where night soil and industrial waste was historically incorporated as a way of bulking the soils out as the organic carbon oxidises and (ii) soil formation and mineralogy as granite weathers to soil on Dartmoor, the Cairngorms and Bodmin Moor, Cornwall.


Soil profile (0-80 cm) developed above granite on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK
Soil profile (0-80 cm) developed above granite on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK.
Cross polar photomicrograph showing typical granite mineralogy and texture, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK
Cross polar photomicrograph showing typical granite mineralogy and texture, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK.