£1.75m for research into weathering
Press release issued: 9 September 2005
An international research consortium into the process of weathering, which includes experts from the University of Bristol, has been awarded a £1.74 million grant by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
The research consortium, led by the University of Sheffield, along with the Universities of Bristol and Leeds, and in partnership with Pennsylvania State University and other associates in the USA, hopes to establish a global understanding of how weathering is affected by natural and human activities.
The newly funded consortium, entitled 'Biologically-Mediated Weathering of Minerals from Nanometre Scale to Environmental Systems', brings together biologists, geologists, chemists, engineers, materials scientists, physicists and mathematical modelers to understand the process of weathering. The funding last for five years and starts on 1 October 2005.
Weathering is a key natural process that transforms rock to soil and unlocks nutrients for forest, grassland and agricultural production. The research will develop new methods adopted from nanotechnology and molecular biology to improve the management of the whole life cycle of soil from its formation to its depletion.
The scientists will track how plant energy captured from sunlight is directed through roots and soil fungi to extract the elements that nourish ecosystems.
The four university partners are all members of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN). The WUN, along with support for USA partners from the National Science Foundation, provides development funding for the project and is planning to support an international effort to better manage the Earth's 'Critical Zone', the area between bedrock and the tree-tops that supports life. Soil within the critical zone is now a limited resource because it is being eroded and lost by urbanisation nearly 100 times faster than it is being formed naturally.
Dr. David Pilsbury, Executive Director of the WUN, said: "Weathering and soil erosion is a serious environmental issue that we need to better understand. Working collectively will allow the consortium to move out of traditional science areas to create a new integrated, international and interdisciplinary approach to tackling this critical issue."
Professor Vala Ragnarsdottir of Bristol University's Department of Earth Sciences, who is coordinating the research project at Bristol said: "We are delighted to have received this award. Experts at Bristol conduct world-class research in many relevant areas and this award will allow us to be part of a unique interdisciplinary group, building on this expertise and conducting critical new research."