Can artificially made soils can be used as a sustainable solution against soil erosion?
Researchers from the University of Plymouth, alongside colleagues from the Universities of Exeter and Worcester and industry partners at the Eden Project, are investigating whether artificially made soils can be used as a sustainable solution against soil degradation, whilst reducing the quantity of waste sent to landfill.
The year-long experiment, led by Professor Mark Fitzsimons, measured the amount of nutrients the soil lost due to the movement of water through it. ‘Leachate’ is the term used for the nutrient-bearing water, after it has passed through the soil. The researchers tested the chemical content of the leachate, as a measure of how well the artificial soil could retain nutrients.
Specifically, the focus of the study was on the ability of the soil to retain nitrogen, especially once carbon quantity in the soil becomes low (limited). This is important as British soil is losing 0.6 per cent of its carbon annually due to climate change related processes. Whether the soil is appropriate for use in projects, ranging from urban landscaping to farming depends heavily on how well it retains nitrogen.
The economic and environmental impacts of topsoil loss, in the UK and throughout the world, are significant. Across the UK, rainwater is washing soil from the land into rivers, lakes and seas; this process is ‘soil erosion’. Under natural conditions, soil erosion occurs very slowly, however, farming requires the clearing of forests and woodlands, resulting in a lack of plants to anchor soil to the ground. This speeds up soil erosion; the speed of soil loss dramatically outpaces the accumulation of new soil.