Project Description

By assessing future management practices and identifying the most impactful behaviours the project intends to inform how farms across NI could accelerate the move towards net-carbon-zero operations.  Working within three large farming and soil-health project/networks (ARCZero, SNHS, AgriSearch), established for calculating whole farm carbon stocks, annual emissions and soil fertility baselines, this study will access a detailed/high resolution collective of soil (organic) carbon, nutrient indices, remote-sensing (LiDAR) and physiochemical soil sustainability indicators (DGT), within a framework of benchmarked current practices encompassing dairy, beef and lamb-farming types, geolocated across the dominant agriscapes of NI, which includes native Irish woodland and hedgerow habitats.

Well-tested models (examples include: JULES, RothC, DNDC, ECOSSE, CENTURY), populated by spatial datasets of climate, soil characteristics, land use and land management, will be harmonised against in-field measurements, which will include mixed species swards to project likely changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) content. By using all these data and information streams together/simultaneously/concurrently, soil monitoring, reporting and verification is more impactful/effective/economical (Smith et al., 2020). Although, providing regional/provincial representation of a region of interest (Northern Ireland), analysis will be embodied in global modelling frameworks.

The developed models of SOC will be used to prioritise soil carbon mitigation actions within NI, but will also overlay/intertwine with supply chain sustainability action plans for UK retailers. Here placement opportunities will enable alignment of on-ground recommendations for land management within considerations of ethical material sourcing, reducing supply chain carbon emissions and zero waste, with a focus on soil carbon sequestration (McGuire et al., 2022). On a subset of soils (formed from the ARCZero project), in-situ and laboratory bulk density data (Primary Soil Health Indicator for grasslands (CXC, 2021)) will be combined with soil incubation experiments for measuring SOC and nutrient fluxes (Extremely important Soil Health Indicator for climate change (CXC, 2021) using Diffusive Gradients-in-thin-films (DGT). DGT is an infinite-sink technique, that when applied in soils measures the kinetically labile analyte fractions, consisting of free ions, complexes with inorganic and organic ligands, and exchangeable solid phase pools. Interpretation of these soil health/solute characteristics will be contingent on parallel in situ topsoil depth/erosion features (from AgriCarbon) and solid-state element profiles obtained by EDXRF.

Research support will include training in integrated modelling approaches, model development and validation, scenario design and the methodology for sensitivity analysis. Opportunities for in-depth, and both practical and fundamental learnings across multiple NI farm enterprises exist. So, to will be skills in soil sampling, methods of analysis and measurement QC. The project incorporates a multi-stakeholder approach, including farm businesses, industry partners and government organisations. There will be plenty of scope to attend workshops, farm walks, and other communication outreach events. The supervisory team cover a wide breadth of expertise, which mirrors the scope and ambition of the project. The research exchanges with the University of Aberdeen will provide not only unique training opportunities from the UK’s leading global ecosystem modeller, but experience of farm management practices used in Scotland to optimise soil health and grassland production.


Undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences. Experience with soil carbon datasets preferred.

Postgraduate degree is desirable but not essential. MSc in Biological/Agricultural or Environmental Sciences.

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash


Nigel Scollan

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Nigel Scollan
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Pete Smith

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Pete Smith
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Paul N. Williams

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Paul N. Williams
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Additional Supervisor:

Dr Ryan McGuire, Queen’s University, Belfast



Smith, P.; Soussana, J. F.; Angers, D.; Schipper, L.; Chenu, C.; Rasse, D. P.; Batjes, N. H.; van Egmond, F.; McNeill, S.; Kuhnert, M.; et al. How to Measure, Report and Verify Soil Carbon Change to Realize the Potential of Soil Carbon Sequestration for Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Removal. Glob. Chang. Biol. 2020, 26 (1), 219–241.

McGuire, R.; Williams, P. N.; Smith, P.; McGrath, S. P.; Curry, D.; Donnison, I.; Emmet, B.; Scollan, N. Potential Co-Benefits and Trade-Offs between Improved Soil Management, Climate Change Mitigation and Agri-Food Productivity. Food Energy Secur. 2022, 11 (2).

Neilson, R; Aitkenhead, M.; Lilly, A.; Loades, K. Monitoring soil health in Scotland by land use category – a scoping study. ClimateXChange, 2021.


  • environmental-management

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