Plymouth Pioneers. Professor Will Blake

Will Blake, Professor of Catchment Science, is an eminent global researcher applying forensic approaches to solve complex issues of soil erosion, its downstream impacts and the associated land management challenges it presents. He is Director of the University's Sustainable Earth Institute.

Crafting the methods to measure erosion

Will is a critical player in the development of environmental forensic techniques to measure soil erosion and show linkages between unsustainable farming, forestry practices and downstream siltation. He has championed the use of short-lived natural isotopes to detect soil movement and the integration of isotopic tracing techniques to improve how global sedimentation problems are assessed and managed.

Will’s expertise builds capacity for applied research through knowledge exchange, advising Joint United Nations Food, Agriculture Organisation and International Atomic Energy Agency efforts on the use of nuclear techniques to support soil conservation and improve river basin water, food and energy security.

Thought leadership

Palm oil, avocados and…soil? Why you should care about dirt

The world is facing a very real emergency with accelerating soil erosion. So where is the same sense of urgency that we see for climate change or antibiotic resistance? Read more about why you should care about dirt

Empowering communities through international collaboration

Will leads the ‘Jali Ardhi’ research project evaluating the impact of soil erosion on the environment and social wellbeing of people in East Africa. This UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund project interweaves natural and social science for an innovative approach that identifies the roots of the erosion problem, whilst critically involving the local people and key stakeholders in the co-design of new, evidence-based solutions that benefit all.

He also leads the UKRI-funded international project ‘Making soil erosion understandable and governable at the river basin scale for food, water and hydropower sustainability in Latin America’, which focuses on the water, food, and energy security impacts of soil erosion. Using a major Chilean river basin as a natural socio-ecological laboratory, the project is developing a holistic, integrated understanding of land management impacts on erosion and siltation to support sustainability of agriculture and hydropower production.

The person behind the pioneer

Read more about Professor Will Blake

Every year 12 million hectares of productive land are lost to soil erosion globally, with a third of all soils are currently thought to be degraded. Unless we take action now, communities who rely on the land for their survival will be left facing an increasingly uncertain future.

The realisation hit that natural science evidence alone had limited power to bring lasting sustainable land management change. I am particularly proud of Jali Ardhi as it crosses so many boundaries, through integration of socio-cultural, natural science and design thinking research, to lay a path from evidence to action.

Professor Will Blake

Voice of a sustainable earth

Our research addresses and responds to the global challenges facing communities as a result of climate change and unsustainable practices to improve our understanding of the environment, its changes and impacts. We continue to build innovative partnerships with industry and government, and use the University’s research expertise to engage with a range of challenges, from the low carbon agenda to water quality and food security in the developing world.
Our researchers have shown that future rainfall could outweigh current climate predictions and identified how to enhance manufactured soils to become more sustainable. We are working with communities around the world to respond to challenges around air, water, energy and food security, including Tanzania, South Africa, Peru, the European Alps and the Arctic.
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