Penn State Soil Characterization Lab
Soil is an integral part of ecosystem function. There are 29 million acres (11,735,884 hectares) of soil in Pennsylvania supporting: wetlands; forest lands; agricultural lands; urban lands; homes, businesses, and roads; our drinking and wastewater filtration. Without soil, these activities and functions would be much more difficult and in some cases even impossible, for soil is as precious to our lives as the very blood in our bodies.
Research in the Soil Characterization Laboratory focuses on people’s use of landscapes and the accompanying changes in soil function across the larger ecosystem the soil supports. Dr. Drohan’s research group addresses basic science questions, but also demonstrates how this new knowledge can be applied to improve land management and ecosystem stability.
Soil Characterization Lab News
NEW PAPER: Dynamic Soil Property Change in Response to Reclamation following Northern Appalachian Natural Gas Infrastructure Development
December 16, 2014How do soils differ in the Northern Appalachians following conventional versus reclaimed shale-gas development? In this new paper published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal we examine physical, chemical and hydrologic changes on gas pads and pipelines that were part of the 1900's and 1970's gas booms, and the current shale-gas boom. Our results show that conventional sites do not exhibit significant differences in dynamic soil properties between disturbed and undisturbed soils while shale-gas sites show significantly higher (potentially root limiting) bulk density and lower SOC and N pools on reclaimed, disturbed soils.
Could vacant lots double as green infrastructure projects?
April 15, 2014"The idea of using green infrastructure, from rain gardens and rain buckets to porous streets and simple sidewalk grass and plantings, is among the few environmental solutions that exists virtually unopposed. Big, old cities in the U.S. tend to have outdated sewer systems that overflow when it rains a lot, thanks to the built environment’s inability to slow all that water down."
NEW PAPER: Residential demolition and its impact on vacant lot hydrology: Implications for the management of stormwater and sewer system overflows
March 28, 2014W.D. Shuster, S. Dadio, P. Drohan, R. Losco, J. Shaffer. Increased residential demolitions have made vacant lots a ubiquitous feature of the contemporary urban landscape. Vacant lots may provide ecosystem services such as stormwater runoff capture, but the extent of these functions will be regulated by soil hydrology. We evaluated soil physical and hydrologic characteristics at each of low- (backyard, fenceline) and high-disturbance (within the demolition footprint) positions in 52 vacant lots in Cleveland, OH, which were the result of different eras of demolition process and quality (i.e., pre-1996, post-1996). Penetrometer refusal averaged 56% (range: 15–100%) and was attributed to high concentration of remnant buried debris in anthropogenic backfill soils. Both disturbance level and demolition type significantly regulated infiltration rate to an average of 1.8 cm h−1 (range: 0.03–10.6 cm h−1). Sub-surface saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ksat) averaged higher at 4.0 cm h−1 (range: 0–68.2 cm h−1), was influenced by a significant interaction between both disturbance and demolition factors, and controlled by subsurface soil texture and presence/absence of unconsolidated buried debris. Our observations were synthesized in rainfall-runoff models that simulated average, high- and low-hydrologic functioning, turf-dominated, and a prospective green infrastructure simulation, which indicated that although the typical Cleveland vacant lot is a net producer of runoff volume, straightforward change in demolition policy and process, coupled with reutilization as properly designed and managed infiltration-type green infrastructure may result in a vacant lot that has sufficient capacity for detention of the average annual rainfall volume for a major Midwestern US city.