Greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, nutrient cycling, biodiversity in soils, productivity of the land all are intimately linked to the soil organic matter (SOM) content and the soil carbon cycle. The study of the protection of SOM against degradation is thus a research topic of the highest relevance agriculturally and environmentally. The protection of SOM is to a large extent related to its spatial location in the soil matrix, i.e. the three dimensional architecture of the soil, because this determines the availability of the organic matter to the decomposers. To date, the organization or distribution of decomposers, SOM, water and air and how this regulates decomposition has been largely overlooked, because investigations that operate at the smallest relevant scales (tens of micrometers to micrometers) have been hampered by limits of available technology.
In this project, we combine measures of microbial community and activity, soil pore space
structure and SOM localization and biochemistry. We will use state-of-the-art X-ray computer tomography in combination with staining of organic matter to better visualize SOM nondestructively.
The combination of visualization of organic matter in combination with measures of microbial community structure and activity, and distribution of soil water will
provide unique data that will generate new insights in carbon cycling at the smallest scales, and may be used to improve models of global carbon cycling.