Water and Soil Sciences

The Water & Soil group undertakes pure, strategic and applied research to develop scientific tools and techniques to solve problems related to soil, land and water management. Our approach to finding solutions is highly interdisciplinary and incorporates physical hydrology, aquatic chemistry, soil science, biogeochemistry and social sciences, delivered through shared catchment platforms, modelling and uncertainty analysis.

LEC water research takes the latest discoveries in water science and works with the world-wide water industry, policy makers and others to deliver innovative solutions for a sustainable supply of clean water for everyone. Our soils research incorporates the biological, chemical and physical aspects of soil sciences to obtain an integrated understanding of this vital environmental resource.

Catchment Management

LEC’s Catchment Management research aims to better understand the different processes affecting water quality and ecology within catchments, including the dynamics of soil erosion, sediment and nutrient loss through different pathways, associated with storm events and climate change. Current projects include characterisation of macronutrient cycles in river systems, the dynamics of agricultural diffuse pollution and associated mitigation measures, understanding the role of vegetation in determining hydraulic characteristics in agricultural water courses, and hydrometric and water quality controls on aquatic biodiversity. Much of this work ultimately feeds into policy debates regarding the correct balance of maintaining watercourses to optimise their ability to convey (flood) waters, as well as maintaining their biodiversity and other ecological services.

Hydrological and Terrestrial Modelling

Researchers within LEC use and develop models to better understand the dynamics of flooding and erosion, and associated environmental model prediction uncertainties. Models are applied to a wide variety of fields, including rainfall-runoff, flood inundation, climate change predictions, water quality, sediment transport, recharge and groundwater, vegetation growth, populations dynamics, forest fire and tree death.

Soil productivity

Soil is a natural resource that underpins our very survival on the planet and provides a range of ecosystem services. Grassland soils represent an abundance of biodiversity and a vast array of plant-soil interactions. Research at LEC is currently investigating how land management, biodiversity and the presence of key plant functional groups affect multiple ecosystem services, and how the effects of global warming and vegetation composition affect UK peatland. This includes the study of soil nutrient retention, greenhouse gas emissions, pollinator services, soil carbon storage, and plant-soil processes.

Research on arable soils, which are crucial for global food security, is being conducted through non-invasive and repeatable observations of soil water uptake of winter wheat cultivars with surface geophysics. These novel approaches will be important tools for assessing crop performance in the agricultural industry by improving our understanding of plant-soil interactions at the field scale.