2011 - 2013
Head of Sustainable Production Theme, The James Hutton Institute
2008 - 2011
Head of Plant-Soil Interface Group, Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI)
1997 - 2008
Research Scientist, SCRI
1995 - 1997
Postdoctoral Scientist, Silsoe Research Institute, Silsoe, UK
BSc Agriculture, University of Guelph (1992)
PhD Chemical Engineering, University of Birmingham (1996)
How special soil observatories in China are helping to create more sustainable agriculture
Links with China date back to 2000, with many scientists and students hosted in Aberdeen over the years. Ongoing research using Critical Zone Observatories explores the environment from the top of trees to the bottom of the groundwater acquirer to gain a holistic understanding. We are exploring how agricultural management drives the environment, currently seeking solutions for more sustainable management practices.
Memberships and Affiliations
Contrasting ability of deep and shallow rooting rice genotypes to grow through plough pans containing simulated biopores and cracksPlant and Soil, vol. 467, pp. 515–530Contributions to Journals: Articles
Importance of short-term temporal variability in soil physical properties for soil water modelling under different tillage practicesSoil & Tillage Research, vol. 213, 105132Contributions to Journals: Articles
Volumetric Properties of Furan and 2‑5-Dimethylfuran in Different Industrial Solvents at Temperatures from 278 to 343 KJournal of Chemical and Engineering DataContributions to Journals: Articles
Significance of root hairs for plant performance under contrasting field conditions and water deficitAnnals of Botany, vol. 128, no. 1, pp. 1-16Contributions to Journals: Articles
Role of microbial communities in conferring resistance and resilience of soil carbon and nitrogen cycling following contrasting stressesEuropean Journal of Soil Biology, vol. 104, 103308Contributions to Journals: Articles
I am a Soil Physicist working on solutions to food and environmental security, mainly focussed on the interactions between plants, microorganisms and the physical behaviour of soil. My work spans from understanding the fundamental processes driving changes in soil physical properties by biology, through to applied research examining soil degradation and the underlying causes. Recent and current projects study the capacity of different plant root traits to physically engineer soil, crop selection impact on hydrological cycling in southern China, the use of vegetation to mechanically stabilise engineered slopes, soil physical impacts on nitrogen fertiliser use efficiency in Brazil and the better use of organic resources in Ethiopia to improve soils and their capacity to produce food. This research is funded by a number of research councils.
I am currently accepting PhDs in Biological and Environmental Sciences.
Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your research ideas further.
Biological and Environmental SciencesSupervising
My current research has four main areas: (1) engineering of the soil physical environment by plant roots, (2) impact of soil physical conditions on microbial processes, pollutant transport and root growth, (3) biophysical resilience of soil to stresses and (4) management of soil physical conditions for crop productivity. It is underpinned by a cross-disciplinary team of staff and collaborators that includes plant scientists, soil biologists, geotechnical engineers, chemists and hydrologists. The research uses a range of approaches including micron scale non-invasive imaging up to larger scale critical zone observatories.
Jaime Buckingham - Soil Physics Research Technician
XRay CT Manager
Dr Maria Marin - NERC Signals in the Soil
Dr Nasrollah Sepehrnia - MSCA Experienced Researcher - TRAMPAS
Dr Clare Brown, BBSRC NUCLEUS
Dr Fiona Fraser, RESAS Soil Resilience
Dr Muhammad Naveed, BBSRC Rhizosphere by Design
Dr Joe Oyesiku-Blakemore, NERC MIDST
Dr Hu Zhou, NERC RedSoilCZO
PhD Alumni (current students at bottom of page)
Yang Gao, Modelling and measuring soil organic carbon under different tillage practices in agricultural soils of the UK. 2017-2020. Principal Supervisor – Prof. Pete Smith
Mohsin Raza, Development of green value chemicals from renewable sources and their physical properties. 2017-2020. Principal Supervisor - Dr Waheed Afzal (School of Engineering)
Mike Ogden - Habitat engineering by ectomycorrhizal fungi. 2013-2019. Co-supervised by Prof. D. Johnson.
Taupik Rahman, Influence of soil physical structure on nutrient capture by plants. 2018-2019 (MSc by Research)
Ewan Oleghe - Physical priming of rhizosphere soil. Co-supervised by Prof. Liz Baggs. 2015-2018.
Anastasia Fountouli - Are pH driven shifts to soil physical structure caused by chemical or biological process? 2013-2017. Co-supervised by Prof. Graeme Paton, Prof. Christine Watson (SRUC) and Dr Robin Walker (SRUC).
Xin Shu - Sustainability of nutrient cycling processes associated with arable land management (U. Aberdeen and SRUC). 2014-2017. Principal Supervisor - Prof. Bryan Griffiths (SRUC)
Purnomo Sidi - The suitability of Eichomia cressipes as loss circultion material on oil and gas drilling industry. 2013-2017. Principal Supervisor - Dr. Waheed Afzal (School of Engineering). Funded by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, Republic of Indonesia.
Marianne Kuntz – Does soil organic matter, matter? (U. Aberdeen and SRUC). 2013-2016. Principal Supervisor – Prof. Liz Baggs
Rice roots bypass plough pans with biopores and cracks
This is a recent paper by PhD student Md Dhin Islam. He found that a deep rooting rice cultivar exploited biopores and cracks to penetrate plough pans to access deep water and nutrients. A shallow rooting rice cultivar was much poorer at doing this. Most interestingly, roots responded differently to growing through cracks to biopores.
A team of PhD students in the Soil Biophysics Group explores a diverse array of topics on physical and biological interactions in soil. Graduates have research positions around the world in universities and research institutes.
The PhD students are truly multidisciplinary, made possible by diverse supervisory teams from different schools, universities and institutions.
Funding and Grants
NERC/NSF: SitS NSF-UKRI: Wireless In-Situ Soil Sensing Network for Future Sustainable Agriculture. NE/T011068/1. Natural Environment Research Council/National Science Foundation USA. D. Young (Utah, PI), E. Yeatmans (Imperial), G. Norton (Aberdeen) and other partners, 2019-2021, £1500k - Co-PI
ESRC: Reducing land degradation and carbon loss from Ethiopia's soils to strengthen livelihoods and resilience (RALENTIR). ES/T003073/1. Economic and Social Research Council. E. Phimister (Aberdeen, PI), J. Smith (Aberdeen),W. Mekuria (IWMU), T. Tefera (U. Hawassa), A. Byg (The James Hutton Institute, G. Edo (Southern Agricultural Research Institute, Hawassa), A. Fischer (SLU) and others, 2019-2022, £921k - CoI
NERC: MIDST-CZ: Maximising Impact by Decision Support Tools for sustainable soil and water through UK-China Critical Zone science. NE/S009167/1. Natural Environment Research Council/Newton Fund. 56 partners in the UK and China, 2019-2021, £1097k - PI
BBSRC: NUCLEUS: a virtual joint centre to deliver enhanced Nitrogen Use effiCiency via an integrated SoiL-plant systEms approach for the Uk & BraSil. BB/N013204/1. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)/Newton Fund. with S. Mooney (Nottingham, PI), Bangor, Rothamsted and 7 Brazilian partners, 2016-2019, £2241k - CoI
ESRC: Improving Organic Resource use in rural Ethiopia (IPORE). ES/P002501/1. ESRC/NEXUS. with E. Phimister (Aberdeen, PI), J. Smith (Aberdeen), A. Fekadu (S. Nations, Ethiopia), W. Bori (IWMI, Ethiopia), T. Tefera (Hawassa, Ethiopia), G. Yakub (SARI, Ethiopia) and A. Fekadu (SARI, Ethiopia), 2016-2018, £166k - CoI
NERC: Building Resilience in Ethiopia's Awassa region to Drought (BREAD. NERC El Nino. NE/P004830/1. with J. Smith (Aberdeen, PI), E. Phimister (Aberdeen), A. Byg (JHI), M. Rivington (JHI), H. Black (JHI), T. Tefera (Hawassa, Ethiopia) and A. Fischer (JHI), 2016-2018, £297k - CoI
NERC: Red Soil CZ: From natural to anthropogenic evolution of Red Soil and its impact on ecosystem function in the Critical Zone. NE/N007611/1. J. Smith (SBS Aberdeen) and J. Geris (Geosciences Aberdeen), and M. Hodson (York). In collaboration with the Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2016-2019, £800k - PI
BBSRC: Rhizosphere by design: breeding to select root traits that physically manipulate soil. BB/L026058/1. T. Roose and I. Sinclair (Southampton), G. Bengough (Dundee) and T. George (JHI), 2014-18, £1363k - PI
EPSRC: Rooting for sustainable performance. EP/M019713G. Bengough (Dundee, PI), J. Knappett, D. Muir Wood, J. Smethurst (Southampton), T. Roose, I. Sinclar, W. Powrie. 2015-2019. £1578k - CoI
NERC: Multi-Vis: A high resolution large scale X-Ray CT Scanner to build a multi-scale environmental science focussed facility in northern UK. Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Strategic Environmental Science Capital Call, with Dubravka Pokrajac. 2015. £350k - PI
ESRC: Network of Organic Resource use in rural Africa (NORA). Nexus research partnership programme Networking Grant. E. Phimister (PI), J. Smith, B. Balana (IWMI, Ghana), A. Fekadu (SARI, Ethiopia), A. Fischer (JHI), H. Homans, P. Smith, T. Tefera (U. Hawassa, Ethiopia). £20k - CoI
CREW (Scottish Government). Effect of soil structure and field drainage on water quality and flood risk. Allan Lilly and Nikki Baggaley (JHI), Bruce Ball (SRUC) and Bill Crookes (SAC Consulting). £140k - PI
AHDB - Potato Council - Platforms to test and demonstrate sustainable soil management: integration of major UK field experiments, Potato Council, with B. McKenzie (PI), T. George (JHI), Mark Stalham and David Firman (CUF), 2012-2016, £210k, Co-I
AHDB - HGCA - Platforms to test and demonstrate sustainable soil management: integration of major UK field experiments, HGCA, with B. McKenzie, T. George, T. Valentine, and A. Newton (JHI) and Ron Stobart (NIAB), 2012-2016, £644k – PI transferred to BM on move to U. Aberdeen
- Postgraduate, 3 semester, September start
We offer the only dedicated soil science degree in the UK and one of the few remaining in Europe. Soils have risen markedly on political agendas because they are central to climate change and food security. The decades long legacy of work in this area provides comprehensive and cutting edge teaching.
Course Tutor - MSc Soil Science
EV3001/SS5008 - Global Soil Geography (Course Coordinator)
PL3309/SS5305 - Soils for Food Security (Course Co-Coordinator)
BI1509 - Ecology and Environmental Sciences (Laboratory Tutorials)
BI25P4 - Plants, People, and the Environment (Lecture)
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Rare earth oxides for labelling soil aggregate turnover: Impacts of soil properties, labelling method and aggregate structureGeoderma, vol. 351, pp. 36-48Contributions to Journals: Articles
Impact of soil puddling intensity on the root system architecture of rice (Oryza sativa L.) seedlingsSoil and Tillage Research, vol. 193, pp. 1-7Contributions to Journals: Articles
Imparting water repellency in completely decomposed granite with Tung oilJournal of Cleaner Production, vol. 230, pp. 1316-1328Contributions to Journals: Articles
The role of sampling strategy on apparent temporal stability of soil moisture under subtropical hydroclimatic conditionsJournal of hydrology and hydromechanics, vol. 67, no. 3, pp. 260-270Contributions to Journals: Articles
A simple modelling framework for shallow subsurface water storage and flowWater , vol. 11, no. 8, 1725Contributions to Journals: Articles
Treatment of organic resources before soil incorporation in semi-arid regions improves resilience to El Niño, and increases crop production and economic returnsEnvironmental Research Letters, vol. 14, no. 8, 085004Contributions to Journals: Articles
Resilience of soil functions to transient and persistent stresses is improved more by residue incorporation than the activity of earthwormsApplied Soil Ecology, vol. 139, pp. 10-14Contributions to Journals: Articles
Residues with varying decomposability interact differently with seed or root exudate compounds to affect the biophysical behaviour of soilGeoderma, vol. 343, pp. 50-59Contributions to Journals: Articles
Surface tension, rheology and hydrophobicity of rhizodeposits and seed mucilage influence soil water retention and hysteresisPlant and Soil, vol. 437, no. 1-2, pp. 65-81Contributions to Journals: Articles
Accumulation of nitrate and dissolved organic nitrogen at depth in a red soil Critical ZoneGeoderma, vol. 337, pp. 1175-1185Contributions to Journals: Articles