Current Research

The core research program of the SIMBIOS Centre is focused on trying to understand how the spatial heterogeneity of soils at the microscopic scale affects their behaviour at larger scales

Simbios ResearchIn a number of broad contexts of deep societal interest, such as global climate change, the possibility to decrease the amount of CO2 released in the atmosphere by carbon sequestration in soils, or the remediation of contaminated subsurface environments (see further details here), it has become clear in the last few years that the way we measure and model a range of soil processes at present is unsatisfactory. In many cases, the predictions made with current models are extremely uncertain, and not reliable enough to serve as a basis for decision-making. Additional characteristics of soils, besides the ones currently monitored, need to be taken into account. Experimental observations suggest that many of these additional parameters should reflect the fact that soils are spatially heterogeneous at the scale of microorganisms, which catalyze crucial processes in soils.

In the SIMBIOS Centre, researchers from a diverse range of disciplines (physics, chemistry, microbiology, mathematics) work collaboratively on this core theme and approach it simultaneously from theoretical, modelling and experimental angles. One of the key objectives of the Centre is to develop and test experimentally a mathematical model of soil dynamics, and to use this model to analyze in detail how micro-scale soil dynamical processes need to be upscaled to account for observed macroscopic behaviours. This research presents a number of significant challenges, for example about how to efficiently and non-subjectively extract information about pore geometry from X-ray micro-tomography data without biasing the picture. These challenges are being addressed along the way. Ultimately, this research will afford improved predictive capabilities to researchers, and less-uncertain predictions on which to base policy decisions and regulations. It will also provide guidance to field soil scientists and surveyors as to what they should be measuring in the field/lab in the soil samples they collect, and which key properties of the soils they should be mapping.

Details of the main interlinking research areas are provided below:

Characterizing soil micro habitats

Soil exhibits heterogeneity at a range of spatial scales. The extreme heterogeneity and interconnectivity of the 3D pore space within soil makes it a unique habitat for the diverse microbial population and has a pivotal role in microbial interactions. Our research focuses on the development of novel techniques to characterize soil at spatial scales that are relevant for microorganisms. Read more...

Bio-physical modelling

Modelling provides a powerful and essential tool to understand the consequences of the microscopic heterogeneity of soil. A particular strength of the SIMBIOS Centre is our expertise in modelling and visualisation of dynamical soil processes such as water flow and microbial community dynamics. Read more...

Microbial adaptation

Adaptation of micro-organisms to changing environmental conditions is a major missing link in long term predictions of soil ecosystem functioning. Our work aims to get a better understanding of how the physical and chemical environment of soil pores at the micro-scale determines microbial colonisation, activity and fitness. Read more...

Sensory ecology – or why organisms move

How, and the rate at which, organisms acquire and respond to information is of crucial importance to their survival. The sensory ecology of most animals follows typical characteristics, in that they interact with a physical or chemical gradient to locate substrate, mates, or avoid predators. Read more...

Modelling and upscaling of emergent behaviour

One of the key objectives of the Centre is to develop and test experimentally a mathematical model of soil dynamics. The approach adopted in the research is that, to describe water and solute transport in soils at the microscale, some form of a single-phase or multiphase Lattice-Boltzmann model will useful. Read more...

Knowledge transfer

As the core of SIMBIOS research is to understand the most complex biomaterial on Earth – soil – we are able to approach a wide range of other challenges outwith the soil environment. Read More...

Complex network research and computational pathology

Cancer is a term describing hundreds of different kinds of pathology affecting the mammalian cell cycle leading to proliferation and invasion of diseased cells in the body. Read More...

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