Soil Security

A handful of soil

The world's soils are critical to the well-being of human societies because they deliver many ecosystem services that sustain life. Soils act as a medium for plant growth, a filter for water, and a major global sink of carbon, and are home to a vast diversity of organisms that drive the biogeochemical processes on which the functioning of the Earth depends.

Despite their importance to mankind, our understanding of what regulates the ability of soils to perform these multiple functions in different contexts, and at different spatial scales, ranging from the soil profile to the Earth system scale, is severely limited, as is our knowledge of the controls over the ability of different soils to adapt and respond to land use and climate change. This represents a serious gap in knowledge given the rapid rate at which soils are being degraded worldwide and the urgent need to inform policymakers and land managers on the sustainable management of soils.

The overarching aim of the Soil Security programme is to deliver improved forecasts of the response of the soils system to changes in climate, vegetation or management at scales of analysis which match the scale of decision making.

This will be achieved by addressing the following goals to gain an integrated and predictive understanding of (i) the ability of soils to perform multiple functions in different contexts and at different scales, and (ii) their ability to resist, recover and adapt to perturbations, such as those caused by land use change and extreme climatic events.

Announcement of Opportunity: Soil Security - Small grants

Closing date: 9 Aug
2016

15 Jun 2016

NERC is inviting proposals under the Soil Security programme for research projects costing between £150,000 and £250,000 (80% full economic cost), and of up to 24 months' duration.


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The soil system provides many essential ecosystem services that are crucial to food security, climate mitigation, and water cycling, and changes in the way we manage the land surface have resulted in widespread degradation of soils and their ability to deliver ecosystem services. For example, it has been estimated that currently 45% of European soils exhibit very low organic matter contents (0-2% organic C) and degraded soils cover 15-17% of the world's land surface. There is an urgent need, therefore, for improved understanding of the factors that control:

  1. How soils perform multiple functions and deliver a range of ecosystem services.
  2. Their ability to resist and recover from global change and hence continue to perform critical soil functions.

Soils are highly complex; a range of physical, chemical, and biological factors interact to regulate their functioning and their ability to resist and recover from perturbations, such as drought. Moreover, these controls on soil functioning, and their response to perturbations, are likely to vary across different spatial and temporal scales, and across different soil conditions and land types; in other words they are highly scale- and context-dependent.

As an example, significant advances have been made in understanding the role of plant-soil interactions in driving processes of carbon and nitrogen cycling at local scales and in specific contexts, but very little is known about their role in driving these processes at the landscape and Earth-system scales, and how these roles vary in different contexts.

A key challenge of this programme, therefore, is to deliver for the first time a truly integrated and multi-disciplinary understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological controls on soil functioning, and the relative importance of these factors for soil functioning at different spatial and temporal scales and in different contexts.

The overarching aim of this programme is to deliver improved forecasts of the response of the soils system to changes in climate, vegetation or management at scales of analysis which match the scale of decision making.

This will be achieved by addressing two strongly linked scientific goals; namely, to gain an integrated and predictive understanding of controls on:

  1. The ability of soils to perform multiple functions in different contexts and at different scales, ranging from the field, to the landscape, and Earth-system scale.
  2. The ability of soils and their functions to resist, recover, and ultimately adapt to perturbations such as those caused by land-use change and extreme climatic events.

Timing

2013 - 2018

Can I apply for a grant?

No. This call is now closed.

Budget

This programme has a budget of £8 million funded by NERC, Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra and Scottish Government.

Management

The Soil Security programme will be governed by the Programme Executive Board (PEB), which is responsible for the strategic direction and management of the programme and delivery of the programme's objectives. The PEB is currently comprised of:

  • Simon Kerley, NERC (Chair)
  • Kerry Firth, BBSRC
  • Dan McGonigle, Defra
  • Liam Kelly, Scottish Government
  • Dominique Butt, NERC (ex officio)

Programme awards

Grant details are shown in our online grants browser - Grants on the Web.

View details of funded applications - external link

View details of funded fellowship awards - external link

The following documents and links are related to or give more information about this programme.

Theme action plan (PDF, 92KB)