Dirt Science

Having a PhD funded by NERC (the Natural Environment Research Council) means that I have priority booking on advanced training courses related to their remit of environmental research. I was fortunate enough to find a place on Dirt Science: An Introduction to Soil System Science held at Cranfield University collaboration the British Society of Soil Science and the James Hutton Institute.

My background is in soil biodiversity rather than soil itself so I was pleased to be able to attend the course to learn more about soil functions and how to excavate a soil profile and describe the different layers. The week started with lectures and discussions on soil functions and an introduction to a research challenge which we would be working on within groups during the week. The next day comprised the BSSS ‘Working with Soils’ course – a hands-on field day were we exposed a soil profile and were shown how to use an auger (a tool for extracting a soil core).

Members of my team digging a soil profile on the BSSS Working with Soils course
Digging a soil profile on the BSSS Working with Soils course


Once we had dug the hole we were shown how to identify the different soil horizons (layers), including colour (using a colour chart), texture (by handling the soil and identifying whether it is sandy, loamy or clayey).

Identifying soil colour using the Munsell Colour Book
Identifying soil colour using the Munsell Colour Book

The next day we were introduced to soil data sources available in the UK and some of the software and applications that have been developed to interrogate these data. This was particularly interest to me as my research will be collating data on soil biodiversity from different sources and if I can incorporate some of the data available on soil properties into my computer modelling this could be very useful. The afternoon was spent using computer modelling techniques to predict soil properties and types and creating digital soil maps.

Using ArcGIS software to create digital soil maps
Using ArcGIS software to create digital soil maps

The next day covered the using of sensing technologies to estimate soil properties, including a tour of the some of the equipment developed at Cranfield University to do this. Sensors attached to a plough can be used to collect data on soil properties as it is moved across the field. This gives farmers detailed information on which part of their fields need more fertiliser etc. allowing targeted application. The final session was on how to develop a ‘pathway to impact’, this is a document often requested by funders, which provides specific plans on who are the beneficiaries of the proposed research and how to engage and communicate with them. So overall it was a really useful course for me – not only to improve gaps in my knowledge about soil but how I can communicate my research to others and what funders are looking for when I eventually make the next step and apply for future projects.

Check out my Storify for more pictures from the course:

One thought on “Dirt Science

  1. Pingback: Victoria's blog | Another year over!?

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