Name: Sam Musarika
Project title: Mitigating the impacts of intensive agriculture on lowland organic soils
Where based: Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Bangor)
I completed a Master of Environmental Science (MEnvSci) in 2016 at the University of Sheffield. I am a very keen plant scientist who is passionate about the environment and environmental issues. During my undergraduate studies and masters, I completed research projects i) analysing the ecological effects of grazing exclusion and ii) the preservation of agricultural peat soils using water table manipulation while maintaining current levels of production. My latter project has led me to this PhD. I hope that by understanding agricultural peat lands, I can have a tangible impact in addressing major environmental issues, especially climate change.
Optimising the trade-off between food and fibre production, and the other services provided by semi-natural and agricultural ecosystems, represents a key global challenge. This challenge is particularly acute in organic soils, both in the UK and globally, due to inherent unsustainability of drainage-based production in former wetland soils. The IPCC estimate that peatland degradation accounts for 3% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, whilst cultivated organic soils are the UK’s largest source of emissions from the land-use sector. Carbon loss and associated land subsidence in areas such as the East Anglian Fens were identified as major threats to UK soils in the recent House of Commons report on Soil Health, with long-term consequences for agricultural yields, rising energy costs of drainage, and flood risk. Nevertheless, drained lowland organic soils currently represent some of the UK’s most valuable and productive agricultural land, and are particularly important for the horticultural sector. Whilst re-wetting and restoration of some formerly cultivated organic soils is now taking place, the long-term maintenance of UK agricultural and associated economic output requires their continued cultivation over a large proportion of the existing farmland area. Consequently, there is a pressing need to develop proven methods to mitigate the rates of carbon and GHG emissions loss, and reduce subsidence rates, from these areas.
My project aims to test novel methods to mitigate GHG emissions from organic soils under cropland and intensive grassland cultivation. I will be working within a new large NERC research programme (ASSIST) involving CEH and Rothamsted research, and I will make use of a range of cutting-edge instrumentation linked to this and other projects. This world-leading research will help in the development innovative solutions, ranging from nature-based to agri-tech approaches, to a major global environmental challenge.
Climate change is a critical issue that needs addressing and food production and its security are similarly important. With a growing population, solutions are required. I hope my research will be able to help in policy making on soil conservation and food security. The results from this research will contribute to the shaping of future agricultural practice in the UK and I anticipate it can be scaled up globally.
Musarika, S, Atherton, CE, Gomersall, T, Wells, MJ, Kaduk, J, Cumming, AMS, Page, SE, Oechel, WC & Zona, D (2017), ‘Effect of water table management and elevated CO2 on radish productivity and on CH4 and CO2 fluxes from peatlands converted to agriculture’, Science of The Total Environment, vol 584-672, pp. 665-672.