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Soil-water systems and the future of civilization

Tuesday 16 December 2008, 1530-1555
Lecture Theatre 1, Management School Building

Soil and water systems provide a critical interface for the earth's biogeochemical cycles and platforms for supporting human activities.

This presentation by Phil Haygarth of the Centre for Sustainable Water Management, Lancaster Environment Centre will explore how soils provide a 'junction box' for a range of ecosystem services. Special focus is given to the provision of clean and plentiful water for society, particularly in context with management of agricultural land. Historically, the relationship between agricultural soil and water has been on a substance by substance basis, with interest in nitrate, phosphorus, sediment/colloids, pathogens and organic substances. Diffuse substance transport can be conceptually broken into sources, their subsequent mobilisation, transport and finally impact on receiving water body. Issues of flood and water management are also influenced by land management. A new paradigm is emerging akin to 'systems biology of the landscape' that is growing from our ability to measure and sense soil-water systems at multiple scales and in high resolution. We must embrace the complexity this reveals by adopting the best mathematical techniques, working towards multiple spatial and temporal models for prediction.

New advances in observation can help refine our empirical understanding across all scales and can, in turn, help feedback on hypotheses tested, setting new challenges for reductionist approaches. Thus we must grasp soil and water system science, addressing issues across multiple scales and disciplines (from 'plant to planet'). Whilst soils are relatively resilient and underpinning, water is a more temporally dynamic and thus a more sensitive barometer of pressures and responses. We must work towards a new vision for sustainable water management in context with today's needs that embody multiple-media and multiple quality indices, in context with changes in climate and societal pressures for land use and secure water and food supplies.

This provides some exciting challenges for the Centre for Sustainable Water Management and will help contribute towards our future strategy in Lancaster Environment Centre and the University.