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13 August 2020

Researchers at St Petersburg University have found that wheat and wheatgrass are capable of absorbing chemical elements from contaminated soil, accumulating toxicants in their shoots via phytoextraction.

…whilst in Beijing scientists have found earthworms are able to rid contaminated soil of 30% of cadmium pollution, known to be highly toxic to living organisms. Soil fertility, bacterial communities and enzymatic activities were all elevated after remediation.

Scientists have also been using new technologies to increase the speed and effectiveness of soil testing after oil spills. Their new method rapidly detects oil, evaluates for significance of contamination and suggests appropriate remedial action. Next steps are to make the technologies more suitable to use directly in the field.

A new study has shown that trees are important drivers of the soil microbial communities living beneath them. Specifically, researchers found that communities living directly beneath giant sequoias were twice as species-rich as those under neighbouring sugar pine trees. The type of soil also reflects its own unique geological substrate, again contributing to differences in the soil communities.

A student has identified a new way of measuring the density of a soil sample using only a smartphone and a 3D printer. Details are published in the Soil Science Society of America journal.

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe are joining forces to use mob grazing to restore soils damaged by decades of chemical use and mechanical ploughing. The cattle break up compacted soil with their hooves and naturally fertilise to restore organic matter to the land.

…and The Soil Association Scotland field lab is exploring the potential of mob grazing to build soil carbon, improve animal performance, reduce costs of winter feed and increase biodiversity in a new ‘Farming for Biodiversity’ project supported with £57k from ScotGov. Farmers practising mob grazing say they have seen huge improvements in soil and cattle health, as well as lower costs.

A study utilising experimental warming of 4 degrees for 2 years across the whole soil profile has found an unexpectedly-large increase in soil CO2 emissions in a lowland tropical forest. Emissions increased by 55% compared to soils at ambient temperature, demonstrating that soil carbon in tropical forests is highly sensitive to warming, with the potential to create a substantial positive feedback to climate change.

….whilst the ‘Rock on Soils’ project is investigating how much carbon can be captured in Scottish farmland soils. Silicates from crushed rocks spread on the fields are expected to bind with carbon dioxide, removing it from the air. Farmers will also see how much impact the process has on soil and environmental health. Initial research has suggested the process could be a “game changer.”

….and this piece, recaptured from the World Economic Forum, provides more information on the link between soils and climate, and the farming methods that could help sequester carbon.

Finally, World Food Prize 2020 winner and distinguished soil scientist Dr Rattan Lal describes his early years in the lab and the moment he made the connection between soils and climate, in this fascinating and celebratory NPR profile.

Further new research has found the tropospheric ozone – the lowest layer of the earth’s atmosphere, created by chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and sunlight - affects plant, insect and soil microbial communities at elevated concentrations. This could represent a threat to terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity in specific regions.

With thunder storms and heavy rainfall on the horizon, the AHDB have issued advice on farmland and soil management to cope with extreme weather and flash flooding, and reduce risks of soil erosion.