Environmental Modelling

Environmental Modelling

The environmental modelling group specialises in computer modelling at spatial scales from plot to global, and at temporal scales of hours to millennia. We develop and use mathematical models using a range of approaches, and the group is represented by researchers with expertise in soil science, plant science, biology, environmental science, mathematics, physics, computer science, engineering, social science and others.

We model all aspects of the environment, but specialise in global change impacts on ecosystems, soils, agricultural and land based options to mitigate climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental and agricultural sustainability, global carbon cycle, ecosystem modelling, food security, ecosystem services, bioenergy (including BECCS) and other forms of energy modelling. As modelling specialists, we have numerous collaborations with experimental laboratory and field scientists within the University, elsewhere in the UK, and globally.

We model all aspects of the environment, but specialise in global change impacts on ecosystems, soils, agricultural and land based options to mitigate climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental and agricultural sustainability, global carbon cycle, ecosystem modelling, food security, ecosystem services, bioenergy (including BECCS) and other forms of energy modelling. As modelling specialists, we have numerous collaborations with experimental laboratory and field scientists within the University, elsewhere in the UK, and globally.

Below you find an overview of the projects we are currently involved in:




The Afri-Flame project (Adaptation of small-scale biogas digesters for use in rural households in Sub-Saharan Africa) aims to investigate suitability of different designs of biogas digester to different environmental and socio-economic conditions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Biogas technology is an integrated waste management system that is a clean, renewable, naturally produced and under-utilised source of energy. Methane is produced by anaerobic digestion of organic wastes. The gas produced is similar to natural gas and is composed of 50-70% methane, the remainder being composed of carbon dioxide and traces of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

It can be used for heating, cooking, electricity production, and vehicle fuel, and can be piped, bottled, stored, compressed, and even liquefied, providing on-site energy production, storage and access. Furthermore, the residue from the digestion process, “bioslurry”, is a valuable organic fertiliser that is rich in available nitrogen, and treating organic wastes to provide biogas can reduce the spread of pathogens in the local environment.

There is a significant move within many countries of Sub-Saharan Africa to increase the implementation of zero grazing systems. This provides a timely incentive for biogas development in order to fully utilise the increased animal wastes available at the household level. The number of biogas installations across Africa is increasing, largely in the domestic energy sector, due to national domestic biogas programmes. However, technical, environmental, financial and social questions remain, and the rapid increase in the proposed number of installations means that providing scientifically rigorous answers to these questions is of urgent importance.

This project aims to provide these answers through detailed measurements of the flows of carbon, nutrients, water, energy and finances associated with biogas installations, assessment of changes in indoor air quality and spread of pathogens and by a thorough socio-economic analysis of the factors restricting uptake.

The questions to be addressed are:

  1. What are the barriers to uptake of biogas digesters in Sub-Saharan Africa?
  2. What inefficiencies in the use of resources are associated with biogas digesters in Sub-Saharan Africa?
  3. How can existing technologies be adapted to be more suitable for local conditions?
  4. Production of a toolkit to support promotion, selection, installation and long term maintenance of biogas digesters in Sub-Saharan Africa.


This project is a collaboration between universities, NGOs and private companies in the UK

  • (University of Aberdeen, James Hutton Institute, Climate Futures),
  • Uganda (Makerere University, Green Heat Ltd),
  • Ethiopia (Addis Ababa University, Institute of Sustainable Development), and
  • Cameroon (Catholic University Cameroon, Phyto-biotechnology Research Foundation).

From the University of Aberdeen it involves Jo Smith, Nick Morley, Norval Strachan and Vianney Tumwesige.

Image: Vianney Tumwesige testing a biogas installation in a household in Uganda

The ALTER Project


  • Jo Smith
  • Jenny Farmer
  • Charlie Langan
  • Sam Gandy


ALTER (Alternative Carbon Investments in Ecosystems for Poverty Alleviation) is a 3 year international research initiative involving collaboration with partners from the UK (James Hutton Insitute, University of Aberdeen), Ethiopia (Hawassa University, the Southern Agricultural Research Institute and the International Water Management Institute) and Uganda (the Carbon Foundation of East Africa). ALTER aims to demonstrate how improved knowledge about soil degradation can be used to address poverty issues. Solutions to soil degradation are not simple and require a much better understanding of how people benefit from soils, what they stand to gain if they can improve the condition of the soils that they manage, what they would need to do to accomplish this and what barriers may prevent this. ALTER also aims to gain better insight into the likely success of different management options and investment strategies to improve soils, and the goods and services that they supply.

Our role in the project is to understand the ecosystem services available from the soil. We are working in dry mineral soils in Halaba (Ethiopia), and highly organic wetland soils in Uganda. Soil models that can function at both plot and landscape scale are being used to bring together mechanistic understanding from the plot, and scale up to the landscape and give predictions both within the year and extended over 100 years to investigate sustainability. Different management options to improve degraded soils are being investigated by a combination of modelling and experimental work.

The work involves Jo Smith (assessing the capacity of soil capital to supply ecosystem services across scales), Jenny Farmer (measuring and modelling changes in soils and greenhouse gas emissions in wetlands of Uganda), Charlie Langan (predicting ecosystem service loss and targeting management interventions), and Sam Gandy (investigating the influence of termites on the supply of ecosystem services from dryland ecosystems).

Image: Jenny Farmer taking gas samples in Ugandan wetlands that have been drained and are being used to grow potato




The objectives of FACESMAP are:

  1. To analyse attitudes and constraints of different forest owner types in Europe and the ongoing changes (outputs: literature survey, meta-analyses and maps).
  2. To explore innovative management approaches for new forest owner types (outputs: case studies, critical assessment).
  3. To study effective policy instruments with a comparative analysis approach (outputs: literature survey, case studies, policy analyses).
  4. To draw conclusions and recommendations for forest-related policies, forest management practice, further education and future research.

These objectives will be addressed by themes organized around three working groups (WGs).

The Cool Farm Tool



The Cool Farm Tool is an online greenhouse gas calculator which is now helping the farming industry to measure, understand and act on its carbon footprint. Originally developed by Jon Hillier and colleagues in our group, in partnership with Unilever and the Sustainable Food Lab, the tool is now owned by the not-for-profit Cool Farm Alliance. The Alliance’s diverse membership is composed of businesses from the food and drink sector, retailers, fertiliser companies, consultancies, as well as NGOs and academic organisations.

The Tool currently uses global empirical models of GHG emissions from agricultural practices (but modified by site or climatic conditions) and is design to make it easy for farmers to test alternative management scenarios.

The Cool Farm Tool won the 'Practice with Science' Award run by the Oxford Farming Conference in January 2015.

In 2015 the tool is being tested in China using funding from the Science and Technology Research Council with Matthias Kuhnert.

There are NERC and ClimateKIC supported developments of the tool in progress to add metrics for water use efficiency (with Reading University and GeoForschungZentrum Potsdam), and for biodiversity management (with the conservation science group at Cambridge University).

More detail on the tool and for case studies demonstrating its use to drive and monitor GHG reductions can be found at www.coolfarmtool.org.


Global N2O in cropland


Effective low-emission development policies depend on accurate spatially-explicit estimates of GHG emissions that respond to variable soil, climate and management. Studies of N2O emissions, however, span a variety of ecosystem types, and vary in experimental design and results, making it difficult to determine their global response to fertilizers application and climatic factors from individual experiments.

At present there is a lack of sufficient data available for adapting or designing suitable models for GHG emissions from agriculture in particular in tropical and subtropical regions. Working in collaboration with Yara and CIMMYT we will build an open global database on agronomical management practices, crop production, and associated nitrous oxide emissions in croplands.

Focusing on tropical and subtropical countries where historically data has been scarce, the main objective of this study will be the development a new scaled empirical mode to identify the response metric synthesis across scale of the factors with significant influence on N2O and NO emissions, and to test this against process-based models.



  • Dr Jonathan Hillier
  • Sylvia Vetter
  • Dali Nayak

With Sylvia Vetter and Dali Nayak. This is an 18-month project conducting greenhouse gas emissions from Indian farming and identifying cost effective ways of mitigating. In collaboration with CIMMYT and Professor Joyashree Roy at Jadavpur University, Kolkata.



  • Dr Diana Feliciano
  • Dr Jonathan Hillier
  • Sylvia Vetter
  • Dali Nayak


The objective in the CCAFS project is to develop a mitigation advisor tool, in partnership with CCAFS, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics.

The new tool estimates greenhouse gas emissions from multiple crop and livestock management practices in different geographic regions, providing policy-makers across the globe access to reliable information needed to make science-informed decisions about emissions reductions from agriculture.


elum - Bioenergy direct land - use change logoPeople


The ELUM project is commissioned by ETI (Energy Technologies Institute) to provide greater understanding on the GHG and soil carbon changes arising as a result of direct land-use change to bioenergy crops, with a primary focus on the second-generation bioenergy crops Miscanthus, short rotation coppice-willow and short rotation forestry (SRF). The project is UK-bound, but with many outcomes which could be internationally relevant.

The aim of the project was to develop a user-friendly modelling tool from which the impacts of bioenergy land-use change on soil carbon and field GHG balance could be explored spatially across the UK. The modelling tool outputs were derived from the well-established ECOSSE soil carbon and GHG model. An essential aspect of developing this model was the availability of data for model parameterisation and validation.  



The MAGLUE project is aimed at quantifying the real GHG balance of different land use transitions to bioenergy crops, for both UK and imported bioenergy feedstocks.

We deploy sophisticated state-of-the-art instrumentation that is able to measure GHGs very rapidly, to gain a better insight into the dynamic range of GHG emissions that can occur in such systems.

Following data collection, we will extend our analysis by modelling a wide geographical range across the UK and for biomass feedstock sourced from other areas of the world to identify the best bioenergy chains, in terms of GHG balance, and to determine how much imported feedstock might be sustainable in the future.

Genome-wide association mapping and landscape scale modelling of heritable ionomic diversity in Arabidopsis thaliana populations


This project combines geographic information systems and genetic approaches to identify the genes that control the way plants take up mineral nutrients found in fertilizers such as potassium and phosphorus and potential toxic substances such as sodium (for the plant), and arsenic and cadmium (for humans that eat the plants). By understanding how different forms of the genes we discover are used by plants to allow them to grow in soils containing different levels of mineral nutrients or potentially toxic elements we can understand the role these genes play in allowing plants to adapt to the varied soil conditions they are exposed to in their natural habitats. A better understanding of these adaptations in natural populations of plants would have significant practical benefits for agriculture by providing the information needed for the development of new varieties of crops better able to provide the increased yields needed to meet the future demand for more cereals for biofuels, more grain for meat, and more food for the additional 2 billion people expected by 2050.

The approach will combine genome-wide association mapping (validated by linkage mapping and molecular genetics) with landscape scale modelling. It utilizes the large pool of genetic diversity in natural populations of A. thaliana to identify genes, alleles and mechanisms of value in adaptation to the varied edaphic conditions A. thaliana populations encounter across the landscape. Once characterized this natural diversity offers potentially new approaches to manipulate such agriculturally important traits as salinity tolerance and mineral nutrient efficiency to develop crop varieties that are more resilient to the predicted impacts of climate change on soil fertility, and to improve yields in a more sustainable manner to deliver the yield gains required to meet future population growth.



The project FACCE MACSUR  is organised as a Knowledge-Hub and has the aim to link agricultural modelling approaches with political aspects and agricultural trade.

The objective is to determine the impact of climate change on the food production in Europe. As part of the project scaling and the impact of data aggregation on simulation results is one emphasis.

For a study area (about 34000 km2) input data are aggregated for 5 different scales (1km2, 10 km2, 25km2, 50km2 and 100 km2 grid cells) and ecosystem relevant variables are simulated by 13 different models (crop and biogeochemical models). More details are on the web page http://www.scale-it.net/.




The Welsh Government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture, protecting the environment and combating the effects of future climate change. To achieve these objectives, the Glastir programme is in force, in which farmers are financially supported to adopt a range of on-farm measures to protect soil C, reduce GHG emissions, improve water quality and enhance biodiversity. As part of this project we are simulating GHG and soil organic carbon (SOC) fluxes for Wales using ECOSSE-model.

The main aims of the ECOSSE simulations were: 1) to estimate average annual GHG and SOC fluxes for Wales; 2) to investigate the effects of the reduced N fertilizer application Glastir measure on GHG fluxes; and 3) to investigate the impacts of future climate change on the fluxes of GHG and SOC and plant net primary productivity (NPP).



The development of Bioenergy is fuelled by the vision that C emissions will be reduced by substituting fossil fuels with appropriate energy crops and that this will both make a significant contribution to future energy security by reducing fossil fuel dependence and provide new options for farmers, especially in marginal lands.  Miscanthus, a ubiquitous Asian C4 grass with high yields and low inputs is one of the most promising plant species for bioenergy development.

This is achieved by a Miscanthus breeding programme to produce new genotypes for commercialization that integrates the breeding programmes funded at IBERS by DEFRA (2004-2010) and CERES (2007-2010), and linking to a suite of co-ordinated BBSRC funded research projects underpinning breeding science and collecting new germ plasm from Asia.

Germplasm Collection --> Characterisation --> Crossing --> Plot Trials --> Variety testing

Work Package 1
Develop, calibrate and use a crop model to inform the use of genetic resources that will deliver genotypes able to perform well under various UK conditions, and cope with climate change (IBERS, Aberdeen)

Work Package 2
Develop Miscanthus germplasm that will reduce net greenhouse gas emissions even further and be carbon negative (IBERS, CERES).

Work Package 3
Test potential new Miscanthus hybrids in conjunction with supply chain participants and the evaluation of potential varieties from 2.3 (IBERS, E-ON, British Chlorophyll, NFU, CERES).

Work Package 4
Develop agronomic methods to reduce the costs of biomass production from Miscanthus including  the development of cheaper propagation methods.




GREENHOUSE uses extensive existing UK field data and targeted new measurements to build accurate greenhouse gases (GHG) inventories and improve the capabilities of two land surface models (JULES and CTESSEL) to estimate GHG emissions.

Sinks and sources of GHGs vary in space and time across the UK because of the landscape's mosaic of managed and semi-natural ecosystems, and the varying temporal sensitivities of each GHG's emissions to meteorology and management.

Understanding spatio-temporal patterns of biogenic GHG emissions will lead to improvements in flux estimates, allow creation of inventories with greater sensitivity to management and climate, and advance the modelling of feedbacks between climate, land use and GHG emissions.

GREENHOUSE is a collaborative effort involving 20 organisations. Our role within this consortium is to build CH4 and N2O emissions emulators of three established soil models: ECOSSE, Landscape DNDC and DailyDayCent. The model emulators will be embedded in the CTESSEL land surface model to enable it to simulate soil CH4 and N2O emissions.

Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Inventory Research Platform



This project seeks to improve the accuracy and resolution of our reporting system by providing new experimental evidence on the factors affecting emissions and statistics relevant to changing farming practices in the UK. It will provide the evidence for a UK specific method of calculating methane and nitrous oxide emissions that will reflect the adoption of mitigation practices by the industry, enabling the forecasting and monitoring of performance against target emissions reductions set by the UK Climate Change Act. This will build upon previous research, combining field experimentation, modelling and scoping of data sources to fill knowledge gaps.

The overall platform is divided into three separate work packages, the work packages we are directly involved in include:

AC0114 – Data synthesis, modelling and management

This aims to provide a synthesis of existing and new evidence on GHG emission factors and the effectiveness of mitigating measure. This will involve use of computer models linked to survey data to develop improved methodologies that will represent the spatial pattern of agricultural activities and inputs across the UK in relation to climate and soil types.

AC0116 – Measurement of nitrous oxide emissions from soils

Key soils and climate zones and sources of the N2O that have been identified as requiring further measurements to generate country specific emission factors were identified within this project. Then based on a clear set of protocols that cover experimental design, data handling and other aspects, N2O measurements will be collated over an year. Measurements made as part of this project will then be used to calibrate mechanistic models such as DailyDayCent and Landscape DNDC. From this we will then generate spatial emissions of N2O based on the most recent survey data and in addition test the potentiality of some mitigation strategies for both grass and cropland across the UK. 


Climate Xchange logoPeople


ClimateXChange’s aim is to provide independent advice, research and analysis to support the Scottish Government as it develops and implements policies on adapting to the changing climate and the transition to a low carbon society.

CXC’s ongoing woodlands project builds on existing work in the RESAS Strategic Research Programme (SRP), specifically the work on soil carbon and woodland expansion for multiple benefits, by focusing on the implications of different woodland planting scenarios in different areas of Scotland for net Global Warming Potential. As part of this collaborative project we aim to simulate the effect of land use change to forestry on soil C stocks across Scotland. To do this land cover and soils data will be combined with different tree species suitability, yield and productivity and their effect on soil C will be simulated until 2050 under both current climate conditions and future climate change (as outlined in UKCP09).

India – Welcome Trust (Sustaining Health)


An interdisciplinary team collate and analyse existing data on agriculture, diet, food-related GHG emissions, water footprints and health in low and middle-income countries, in order to define healthy, low-carbon, climate-change resilient and context-relevant diets. The team provide suites of agricultural and dietary options to guide national policy decisions, and make linked datasets available to the wider research community. We envision this to be the first of a set of studies in low and middle income countries in which such analyses will be conducted.

This project will enhance the field by providing a method to determine the overall suitability of particular foods and dietary patterns, taking into account nutritional content, acceptability, health outcomes, GHG emissions, water footprint and climate-change resilience. The project will provide dietary solutions for specific socio-demographic sectors of the Indian population, and for different geographical regions, increasing the direct policy relevance of the work. Finally, this work will make a linked dataset available to the wider research community to significantly strengthen research into healthy and sustainable diets in poor countries.

India – WWF (cotton)


The project is part of WWF India’s project, entitled “Understanding the Environmental Footprints (GHG and Water) associated with Cotton Cultivation in Cotton-growing Regions of India and Pakistan”, which aims to understand the GHG emissions and water footprint resulting from cotton cultivation. The project focuses on highlighting the GHG hotspots in cotton production in India and Pakistan and on mitigation options to reduce the emissions in the future.

The management of cotton differs through the different Indian states because of various climatic conditions to which the management is adapted. The “Cool Farm Tool” (CFT, Hillier et al. 2011) is used to calculate GHG emissions for cotton production in states and districts in India and Pakistan based on the current management. The CFT is designed to estimate GHG emissions at farm level in any agricultural region across the globe. As such, it uses sub-models which have been validated globally and reflect practices which are relevant globally. This has led to its wide uptake by multinational food, drink, and fertilizer companies and is currently being adapted to an online tool (http://www.coolfarmtool.org/) to be easily available to a wider range of uses.

USE ASAP - NERC KE fellowship


Related websites

The main objective of USE ASAP is to understand the influence of socio-economic barriers on the adoption of practices that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in agriculture. The main steps of this KE fellowship are to:

  • Identify technically feasible indicators of a key perceived barrier (economic impact) to the implementation of practices that reduce GHG emissions in agriculture;
  • Implement the  technically feasible indicators in two agricultural decision tools (CCAFS mitigation tool and the Cool Farm Tool);
  • Monitor the influence these indicators will have on farmers’ implementation of agricultural practices;
  • Assess the ability of the indicators to drive positive environmental change;
  • Suggest mechanisms that will encourage the adoption of practices to reduce GHG emissions.

CCAFS (Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security programme of CGIAR) and the Cool Farm Alliance (CFA) will facilitate the knowledge exchange with farmers, businesses and policy-makers across the globe to provide information about the economic impact of the adoption of practices that reduce GHG emissions.

The CCAFS mitigation option tool and the Cool Farm Tool will be used as platforms to translate knowledge about economic impact associated with the adoption of practices that reduce GHG emissions.

Carbon sequestration in highly organic soils impacted by fire


  • Marvin Beckert

The carbon sequestration potential of soils depends on the turnover time of the organic carbon inputs. Carbon turnover models partition soil carbon into distinct pools with different turnover times. Soil carbon fractionation methods can relate those model pools to measurable soil fractions. Approaches have been developed that successfully relate mineral soil fractions to model pools, but those approaches fail for highly organic soils.

Carbon stabilisation is mostly achieved by physical protection in mineral soils, whereas organic soil stabilisation depends on environmental conditions and chemical recalcitrance. Based on existing approaches, a fractionation scheme that can potentially expand fractionation to organic soils is developed. The approach combines a widely tested mineral soil fractionation scheme with a chemical fractionation method to capture the full range of stabilisation mechanisms in mineral, organo-mineral and organic soils.

The fractions, ranging from labile to highly recalcitrant, are tested against modelled pools of the RothC/ECOSSE soil carbon turnover model. The approach is tested on mineral and peaty soil samples in Scotland and Tasmanian moorland peat samples to capture the processes of a wide range of peat forming materials and climates.

Both the Scottish and the Tasmanian ecosystems are subjected to regular burning and the influence of those burning regimes of the formation of labile and stabilized carbon pools will also be investigated. These data can help to estimate the long term carbon storage capabilities of those locally and globally important ecosystems.

Forest conversion to rubber and oil palm plantations


  • Fitri Aini

This work is measuring greenhouse gas fluxes in mineral soils where indigenous forest has been converted to oil palm and rubber plantation and measuring the effect of land use change on greenhouse gas emissions.

To measure the impact of this land use change, we assessed the impact of forest change to rubber and oil palm plantations on nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Pasir Mayang, Jambi, Sumatra.

We conducted measurements over fourteen months in a forest, disturbed forest, one year rubber plantation, twenty years rubber plantation and eight years oil palm plantation. Intensive daily measurements were taken following fertilizer application in the oil palm plantation.

All of the plantations are managed by smallholder farmers and have never been fertilised. To assess the effect of common farmer management practices, we add nitrogen fertilizer (urea) at a rate of 33.3 kg N ha-1.

There was no seasonal variability measured in this area for CH4 and CO2 fluxes. Termite activity is measured to explain the trends in CH4 fluxes as there is evidence that termites have a significant impact on CH4 emissions.

Modelling Ecosystem Service Impacts of Bioenergy Production in Europe


This project involves modelling the impact of bioenergy production in Europe on ecosystem services.

The distribution and production of second generation energy crops, such as Miscanthus, Short Rotation Coppice (SRC; willow, poplar and other broadleaves) and Short Rotation Forestry (SRF), including differences in species used in European countries, are being investigated. Potential impact will be modelled for the time between 2015 and 2050, every 5th year.

Both GHG and ecosystem models (ECOSSE, DayCent) will be used to examine the impacts of these crops on ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity and soil, water and air quality.

The project will build on models of energy crop production (MISCANFOR, SALIXFOR), soil impacts, yield, greenhouse gas emissions and other ecosystem services, and work undertaken in the UK on the ETI-funded ELUM project.

Further, ecosystem valuation tools (e.g. ecosystem service approach, TEEB) and models will be involved and research regarding optimisation of land use change feedbacks on ecosystem services and biodiversity as well as weighting of the importance of the individual ecosystem services will be done.

The focus will be on two areas, the strictly quantitative and the more qualitative ecosystem services. Some areas are not easily allocated to either category and will have to be assessed in a different way, e.g. using a framework or threat matrix system. 

Modelling current and future greenhouse gas balances from forest soils in the UK

This project will simulate soil carbon change and greenhouse gas emissions from UK forests, under current and future conditions. The project will couple a model of organic matter turnover and greenhouse gas emissions from soils, with models describing the greenhouse gas balance in forest vegetation.

The soil model used will be ECOSSE (Smith et al., 2010). The forest vegetation models will be the ESC (Pyatt et al., 2001), Carbine (Thompson and Matthews, 1989; Matthews, 1996) and CSORT (Morison et al., 2012) family of models.

The simulations will be evaluated against the extensive forest soil datasets available at Forest Research, including the 220 Biosoil network sites (Vanguelova et al., 2013).

Additional sites will be included where pair wise plot comparisons allow sequential model calibration and evaluation; this will provide the opportunity for a more detail analysis of model performance.

The model will be used to simulate greenhouse gas balances and changes in soils in forests across the UK under different scenarios of land use and climate change.

This information will be valuable to both policy makers and the Forestry Commission for quantifying the greenhouse gas mitigation potential of current and future forestry planting schemes.

The impact of delivering food security on ecosystem services

This project will use a data-driven, systems modelling approach based on a global food systems model and ecosystem service impact frameworks to examine a range of possible scenarios to deliver food security.  This includes production side measures through sustainable intensification, redistribution and trade, as well as demand side measures including changing diets and reduced waste.

The feedback on each of these scenarios on land use and ecosystem services will then be examined and the feedback to food supply will be examined both globally and for different world regions.

The project will exploit high resolution, spatially resolved datasets of crop yield, land cover, livestock distribution and agricultural emissions providing unprecedented detail.

The global FEEDME model will be informed by FAO statistics and nutritional demand to derive country level dietary demands for food products which will be matched to supply from the high resolution datasets, constrained by country level trade statistics.

Impacts of potential future food systems will further be examined using globally applicable ecosystem service impact frameworks to estimate impact on indicator ecosystem services such as biodiversity.

The influence of termites on the supply of ecosystem services from dryland ecosystems

Termites are considered ecosystem engineers, and in some cases keystone species in tropical and subtropical regions, and aside from being well documented pests of crops and timber, play major roles in ecosystem functioning via their various effects on soils. Their roles as agents of decomposition and in nutrient cycling, soil processing and formation is particularly important in dryland areas where fungal and bacterial influence on soils tends to be less significant.

This project will seek to characterise the diversity of the termite community in areas of land across a soil restoration gradient, using the Alaba watershed in southern Ethiopia as a case study.

Soil erosion and loss of agriculturally productive land is a major concern in Ethiopia, including the study area, where exclosure zones have been established of differing ages in the hope of mitigating the effects of soil degradation, and restoring soils back to productive use.

The spatial influence of distinct functional groups of termites on key ecological properties relating to soil carbon, water and nutrients in the landscape will be characterised across a soil restoration gradient, by mapping their mounds at the landscape level in different land use zones across the study area.

Field sampling and laboratory analyses of soils and termites will be employed to obtain detailed information on ecological properties using standard environmental methods (such as soil Carbon, Nitrogen, texture and moisture in the field) as well as isotopic analysis back in laboratories at the James Hutton Institute.

Management changes associated with increasing soil carbon will also be investigated for their potential effect on termite diversity and, by extension, implications for ecosystem functioning.

Mapping risk to ecosystem services from organic soil degradation and evaluation of impacts of wetland ecosystem services investments

This project will investigate

i) techniques for mapping ecosystem services and ecosystem service beneficiaries,

ii) how investments in wetland ecosystem can be made to maximise multiple objectives and mitigate trade-offs among stakeholders.

Research will develop a better understanding of the supply of ecosystem services from wetland organic soils; how wetland ecosystem services are generated and distributed within the landscape, and how ecosystem service benefits are appropriated and by whom.

This understanding will be used to analyse trade-offs from wetland investments under different wetland management scenarios.

This will build an analysis framework to guide targeted investments for sustainable wetland management in Uganda for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and alleviation of poverty.

This project is in collaboration with the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen.


The BREAD project, funded by the NERC-DFID El Niňo programme and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Nexus Network and led by Professor Jo Smith, University of Aberdeen aims to understand the impact of the 2015 drought in Southern Ethiopia on communities, individuals and natural resources and find ways of building resilience to drought so that communities and individuals are more prepared for the next El Niňo event.

Droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa have been exacerbated by the current El Niño event, resulting in well publicised risks of famine in the worst affected regions and food shortages elsewhere. This project will combine data collected in the Awassa region of Ethiopia before, during and after the current El Niño to quantify the impacts to locally produced food and farmer livelihoods.

Our primary aim will be to assess biophysical interventions that promoted resilient food production during this El Niño event, with a strong social sciences input so that societal acceptance and impacts of beneficial interventions can be assessed. We have assembled a UK-Ethiopia project team with long-standing expertise working in the region. It involves experts in all aspects of natural, economic and social sciences.


We will test two over-arching hypotheses:

  1. the short term extreme drought associated with the current El Niño will have a long term impact on communities, their farming systems and their soils; and
  2. resilience to this drought can only be built through interventions that consider both biophysical and socio-economic factors.

Main Objective

  1. Propose interventions to increase the resilience of agricultural communities in Southern Ethiopia to extreme droughts, such as caused by El Niño events.
  2. Improve the environmental and socio-economic evidence base for the impact of the current El Niño event in the Halaba district, Awassa, Ethiopia.



  • University of Aberdeen
  • The James Hutton Institute
  • Hawassa University
  • Southern Agricultural Research Institute


  • Professor J.U.Smith, University of Aberdeen
  • Professor Euan Phimister, University of Aberdeen
  • Professor Paul Hallett, University of Aberdeen
  • Dr Anja Byg, The James Hutton Institute
  • Dr Mike Rivington, The James Hutton Institute
  • Dr Helaina Black, The James Hutton Institute
  • Dr Tewodros Tefera, Hawassa University
  • Mr Anteneh Fekadu, Southern Agricultural Research Institute

The IPORE project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Nexus Network and led by Professor Euan Phimister, University of Aberdeen will increase understanding of the interactions between food, energy and water, associated with organic resource use in two different districts of Southern Ethiopia.

The shortage of organic resources in rural Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) for improving long term energy, food and water provision is one of the region's greatest challenges. The Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region in Ethiopia (SNNPR) provides an excellent case study for transdisciplinary research on how community sustainability and resilience might be improved by better use of organic resources.

Main Objective

This project will increase the understanding of the interactions between food, energy and water associated with organic resource use in this specific geographical and social context, and will help identify appropriate locally adapted solutions to improve community sustainability and resilience.

The project will also show how integrated biophysical, economic and social science data collection can be used to better capture household adaptation; a challenge that has been recognized by the World Bank.



  • University of Aberdeen
  • Hawassa University
  • The James Hutton Institute
  • International Water Management Institute
  • Southern Agricultural Research Institute


  • Professor Euan Phimister, University of Aberdeen
  • Professor J.U.Smith, University of Aberdeen
  • Professor Paul Hallett, University of Aberdeen
  • Dr Tewodros Tefera, Hawassa University
  • Dr Anke Fischer, The James Hutton Institute
  • Dr Wolde Mekuria, International Water Management Institute
  • Mr Getahun Edo, Southern Agricultural Research Institute
  • Dr Simon Langan, International Water Management Institute
  • Mr Anteneh Fekadu, Southern Agricultural Research Institute