Contact: Please click here to email
Core teaching roles:
Year 2: Ecological & Environmental Analysis (Course Organiser); Soil, Water & Atmospheric Processes. Year 3: Population & Community Ecology. Year 4: Critical Thinking; Earth Surface Processes; Land-Atmosphere Interactions; Current Issues in Ecology.
Novel Strategies for Carbon Storage in Soil (Course Organiser); Soil Protection and Management.
Student's academic contact in GeoSciences for careers:
Research Group: Earth and Planetary Science - Earth Resources
Research in soil science
I have a core interest in soil performance, particularly how it relates to soil organic matter. The relative contribution of more and less active/labile fractions of organic matter to the overall behaviour of soil is a question of central importance. Modelling the dynamics of key physical components of soil or soil organic matter could be vital. Clearly carbon per se is only part of the story.
BiocharAlthough often presented as a discrete topic, exploration of biochar materials should be integrated into a more general consideration of organic mater in soil, together with the management of crop residues and other organic resources such as compost and sludge. The effect of charcoal in terra preta soils certainly provides an interesting model for the study of organic matter turnover versus soil function.
I have been involved in a multi-disciplinary effort to evaluate and develop biochar as a response to climate change. This involved the establishment of the UK Biochar Research Centre (UKBRC), as a focus for a national activity related to the topic, connecting to a wider global community. The team in Edinburgh has fluctuated in size over the past ten years, but has always comprised a combination of academic staff, post-doctoral researchers and research assistants, plus a number of affiliated PhD students. It has also involved many short- and longer-term visitors from an expanding international network and many MSc and undergraduate research projects.
The goal of my work with biochar has been to establish a sound, predictive understanding of its function in soil, bearing in mind the diversity of the material. The purpose is to 'prescribe' biochar that is both valuable and safe in terms of crop performance and environment, in a diverse systems context. This requires certainty and precision and a "toolkit" of assessment that previously did not exists. We screen biochar for five key functional properties that can be optimised for biophysical conditions and socio-economic circumstance. The dynamics as well as magnitude of biochar effects has been considered, i.e. accounting for various timescales over which effects may be required.
So in the current phase our work tests out our understanding in the field. This focuses on particular interactions with plants and soil relevant to particular land management practices specific to soil - but also in the context of current management of organic resources and energy. The scale at which biochar can work in near an longer term is the subject of our further assessment.