Using Critical Zone Science to Understand Sustaining the Ecosystem Service of Soil & Water (CZO)

Muddy river bank. Copyright: Richard Webb

This is a joint programme between NERC and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) to understand and seek ways to address the challenges faced for the delivery of China's ecosystems services in association with their agricultural production and urbanisation. Resilience of these services will be key to the health and well-being of China's on-going land and water use transitions, and can best be understood by looking at these services in the context of the critical zone and the interdisciplinary science required to address it. This programme is supported by the UK through the Newton Fund which forms part of the UK governments Official Development Assistance (ODA).

CZO - Five funded projects

14 Jan 2016

As part of the UK Newton Fund activities, NERC in collaboration with the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) have agreed to support five projects.


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Changes in the way China manages its land and water use, due to population and economic development pressures, have resulted in widespread degradation of soils and in water scarcity in terms of quantity and quality, and their ability to deliver ecosystem services. Prime quality land, generally in the humid south, is being replaced by lower (agricultural) quality land in the colder and water limited north, much of which is flood zone and will lack resilience under agricultural practices. The emerging agricultural situation is one of erosion, loss, or over-use of prime land in the south, and increasing water shortages reducing yields in the north. With the political ambition to deliver 'ecological sustainability', there is a need for new scientific understanding, and a more holistic framework approach to the restoration or remediation of damaged and depleted soils and water resources. This is needed to ensure ecosystem services in many areas of China are maintained and are resilient to perturbations.

The overarching goal of the programme is to understand and seek ways to address the challenges faced for the delivery of China's ecosystems services in association with their agricultural production and urbanisation. Resilience of these services will be key to the health and well-being of China's on-going land and water use transitions, and can best be understood by looking at these services in the context of the critical zone (CZ) and the interdisciplinary science required to address it.

The critical zone (CZ) is the portion of the earth that supports life, and extends from the top of the tree canopy to the bottom of aquifers - the zone that supports life on the planet. Critical zone science offers an integrating research framework that tackles soil and water with a focus on the interfaces between atmospheric, biological, hydrological and geological sciences. Whilst soil and water are important compartments of the CZ, and are major interfaces with above and below ground systems, they must be viewed in the holistic perspective where their processes and interfaces are part of the whole system.

To tackle China's challenges and sustain the ecological service of both water and soil, there is a need for knowledge of soil source and formation, and stocks and flows of water. Consideration needs to be given to their evolution, functioning and resilience to climate, land use change and human perturbation in ecological systems. These understandings can only be achieved through research in the context of coupled physical, chemical and biological processes, and flux change of interfaces in the critical zone.

Through this approach, the programme will provide evidence to inform and influence policy and management decisions, including restoration and remediation, which are key in defining land and water use. To inform future decision making requires scientific advances resulting from this programme.

The programme aims to understand the role of soil and water within the framework of the CZ, and use CZ science in the provisioning of China's key ecosystem services, including agriculture and climate mitigation. Within this framework the scientific objectives are to:

  • Understand the importance of spatial variation and scale (from field to landscape) on the ability of soils and water within the critical zone (CZ) to perform their multiple functions;
  • Development of modelling approaches and improvement of model skill, with the integration of wider disciplines, in the prediction of resilience; and
  • Within the context of environmental stressors within China (e.g. erosion, pollutants, extreme weather, changing agricultural practices, and water availability), seek to understand and improve the resilience of soils and water to perturbations.

Timing

2015-2018

Can I apply for a grant?

No, there are no current grant funding opportunities for this programme.

Budget

NERC have a budget of £3 million to fund eligible UK-based researchers and NSFC have a budget of 60m RMB to fund eligible Chinese-based researchers.

Programme awards

CZO awards 2015 (PDF, 34KB)

Further award details are also shown in our live online grants browser - Grants on the Web (GOTW).

View live details of all CZO funded projects