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Katy Wiltshire

Name: Katy Wiltshire

Project title: Tracing the origin of sediments and C across the terrestrial-aquatic continuum: A holistic approach to assess climate change and water quality threats

Where based: Cranfield University

Contact links: Email: c.wiltshire@caranfield.ac.uk

Background: I have always had an avid interest in science and have spent most of my life consuming as much of it as I can. My first degree was in Astrophysics and after studying the universe above I turned my attention to the ground beneath and gained an MSc in Applied Geophysics. I then spent many years as a software engineer and data analyst using data from radars and other sources such as microwave moisture sensors to extract information about the world around us. I took a break from full-time work to bring up my two children and at the same time started to develop my interest in geology that had started with my MSc. I developed both practical and academic skills by studying an RHS garden planning/management course and taking Earth Science MSc courses with the OU. However, not being completely satisfied with consuming the results of everyone else’s hard work and research I decided I would like to start producing a contribution, however small, of my own to scientific knowledge and my STARS CDT/Cranfield PhD is a great opportunity for me to do just that.

Project description: Our soils provide a number of vital ecological roles including biomass production and filtering capacity. Due to changes in climate and human activity the ability of this largely non-renewable resource to continue in these vital roles is likely to deteriorate as a result of accelerated soil erosion.

On-site soil erosion problems can include loss of topsoil, removal of nutrients as well as damaged crops – all leading to reduced fertility and soil productivity. In addition, we are all becoming increasingly aware that the soil erosion and run-off can produce many damaging off-site problems including localised flooding and the delivery of sediment and nutrients to waterways, adversely affecting water quality.

In June 2019, in collaboration with SEPA, I and a team of researchers from Cranfield University and The James Hutton Institute carried out extensive fieldwork in the catchment of Loch Davan, along the tributaries of the Logie Burn. SEPA had considered the Logie Burn as having poor ecological status due to both diffuse sediment/nutrient inputs and morphological alteration. Soil and sediment samples were collected from both terrestrial and aquatic sites encompassing all major land-uses. In addition, sediment samplers were installed in the waterways to enable changes in the suspended sediments to be assessed throughout the year.

These data will be used together with existing land-use, soils and environmental databases in order to both describe the landscape today and identify changes (e.g. land-use) through time. We hope to integrate identification of land-use sources for the aquatic sediments through sediment fingerprinting with detailed modelling/mapping of soil organic carbon distribution, erosion and transport to gain a thorough understanding of the catchment.

In the future, we would like to extend the study to another Scottish catchment with the aim of determining whether the methods used within the largely lowland mineral soils of the Davan watershed can also be successfully employed in Scotland’s more organically rich soils. This project aims to facilitate mitigation of land use and climate impacts on water quality in UK watersheds.