Research

In a world of climate and land use change, soils are one of the most essential resources to sustain humankind and biodiversity. However, soil is a finite and - considering the current land use and management - endangered resource. We investigate soil - atmosphere and soil - hydrosphere interactions, as well as transport processes with special focus on soil degrading processes and their consequences on land, air and water.

We assess the extension, the state of degradation and possible mitigation strategies of soil erosion by water and wind with regional and large scale modelling. Wind-blown soil dust has potentially a major effect in the atmosphere influencing climate and weather patterns by inducing the formation of ice in tropospheric clouds. Simultaneously, soil erosion leads to sediments being washed into rivers where they clog the river bed, contribute to the eutrophication of waters and have direct harmful effects on the biota and on human-made river infrastructure. We develop tools to follow eroded sediments on their way from where they detach (on-site soil erosion assessment with radionuclides) to where they are transported and deposited in freshwaters downstream (application of WaTEM/SEDEM modelling). We validate our model results with fallout radionuclides and sediment source attribution with compound specific isotope analysis.

The main threat to wetland soils is, next to soil erosion, the drainage of these precious ecosystems. The consequences of peatland drainage are not only loss in biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions, but also unforeseen effects such as re-emission of previously deposited mercury. Since wetland degradation and successful wetland restoration are often subtle processes, we develop tools to assess wetland degradation status with stable isotopes, biomarkers and molecular compounds.