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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: Weathering of rock to regolith: The activity of deep roots in bedrock fractures
December 6, 2017
Many areas in the world are characterized by shallow soils underlain by weathered bedrock, but root-rock interactions and their implications for regolith weathering are poorly understood. To test the role of tree roots in weathering bedrock, we excavated four pits along a catena in a shale-dominated catchment at the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (SSHCZO) in central Pennsylvania.
NEW PAPER: Unconventional gas development facilitates plant invasions
July 25, 2017
Vegetation removal and soil disturbance from natural resource development, combined with invasive plant propagule pressure, can increase vulnerability to plant invasions. Unconventional oil and gas development produces surface disturbance by way of well pad, road, and pipeline construction, and increased traffic.
NEW PAPER: Short-term Forecasting Tools for Agricultural Nutrient Management
May 9, 2017
The advent of real-time, short-term farm management tools is motivated by the need to protect water quality above and beyond the general guidance offered by existing nutrient management plans. Advances in high-performance computing and hydrologic or climate modeling have enabled rapid dissemination of real-time information that can assist landowners and conservation personnel with short-term management planning. This paper reviews short-term decision support tools for agriculture that are under various stages of development and implementation in the United States: (i) Wisconsin’s Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast (RRAF) System, (ii) New York’s Hydrologically Sensitive Area Prediction Tool, (iii) Virginia’s Saturated Area Forecast Model, (iv) Pennsylvania’s Fertilizer Forecaster, (v) Washington’s Application Risk Management (ARM) System, and (vi) Missouri’s Design Storm Notification System. Although these decision support tools differ in their underlying model structure, the resolution at which they are applied, and the hydroclimates to which they are relevant, all provide forecasts (range 24–120 h) of runoff risk or soil moisture saturation derived from National Weather Service Forecast models. Although this review highlights the need for further development of robust and well-supported short-term nutrient management tools, their potential for adoption and ultimate utility requires an understanding of the appropriate context of application, the strategic and operational needs of managers, access to weather forecasts, scales of application (e.g., regional vs. field level), data requirements, and outreach communication structure.