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Uncovering the hidden properties of subsoils to enhance C sequestration, water retention and habitat for soil biota and crops

  • School: School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
  • Starting: 2024 / 2025
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


Project ID: ARES9

Life on Earth depends on the vitality of its soils, encompassing both the surface topsoil and the often-neglected subsoil layers. While extensive research efforts have concentrated on understanding the topsoil, subsoils have largely remained a terra incognita. Through the collaborative efforts of leading experts and practitioners, this project, which is a component of the EU DeepHorizon initiative (submitted to the EU Commission in September 2023), aims to reveal the hidden mechanisms and processes of the subsoil within the critical zone. Our objective is to harness this knowledge to deploy holistic solutions that enhance subsoil functions and promote soil health.

The main goal of this project is to develop a suite of tools that will empower practitioners, land managers, and policymakers to access critical information related to subsoil properties, subsoil functions, soil health indicators, and financial decision support tools—all of which are pivotal for fostering sustainable subsoil management practices.

Our methodology involves a multi-stakeholder approach, spanning from farmers to policymakers, and will entail four key phases:

  • Data Collection and Utilization: We will gather and leverage existing data on subsoils to bolster our understanding.
  • Knowledge Generation: Extensive subsoil sampling and experimental endeavours will be undertaken across sites in the UK or/and other European countries (if funding success). These efforts will encompass the measurement of biological, physical, and chemical properties within a spectrum of subsoils featuring diverse management practices, soil types (organic/mineral), land uses (forest, grassland, cropland, and semi-natural areas), and climatic conditions.
  • Innovative AI Modelling: Innovative process-based AI models data generated from all sensors (carbon, water, nutrients, plant phenotyping etc.) will be employed to quantify current and potential subsoil functioning, as well as soil health indicators.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: We will actively engage practitioners and stakeholders through living labs and partner networks, fostering collaboration to co-create, test, and implement innovative solutions. This collaborative approach will span more than 10 test sites across UK and/or Europe.

By cultivating a community of end-users and key stakeholders, this project seeks to champion sustainable management practices, policy incentives, and guidelines at both the UK and EU levels, thereby contributing to increased carbon storage and the provision of ecosystem services in subsoils. Furthermore, we aim to disseminate materials and communicate findings to enhance public awareness of the relevance of subsoils.

Ultimately, by enhancing our comprehension and appreciation of subsoils, this project will enhance soil health and lay the groundwork for a more sustainable and resilient environment.

Supervisory Team:

Dr Maira Alves Fortunato (IFP Energies nouvelles, France)

Professor Gloria Falsone (University of Bologna, Italy)

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

To make an application, please visit our studentship application page.

Application deadline: Friday 12 January 2024, closing at 12 pm.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2024 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Application guidance can be found on our studentship application page.

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418