Soils support a wide range of functions upon which much of life on Earth depends. They are the medium in which most of our food grows and yet productive soils are confined to only 3% of the total area of the Earth. If poorly managed they are susceptible to erosion and lose their productive capacity. Soils filter water before it enters aquifers or rivers and so they are a key component of the hydrological cycle.

The global soil resource stores more reactive carbon than the atmosphere and all vegetation combined, so soil carbon is of great importance for the carbon cycle and understanding anthropogenic climate change. Soils also act as a sink for soil contaminants and manufactured nanoparticles. The chemical and mineralogical properties of soils are of paramount importance for improving our understanding of a wide range of inter-related, soil processes.

The quantity and form of organic carbon in soil systems is currently a hot topic in geoscience research because of its importance in understanding processes in the carbon cycle. A range of methods within both the NP3L and the NGEL laboratories can be used to quantify and characterise organic carbon.