MIDST-CZ: Maximising Impact by Decision Support Tools for sustainable soil and water through UK-China Critical Zone science

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Net Zero and Resilient Farming


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

Planned Impact

The following will benefit from this research:
1. Those living in and managing the land for food production, and soil and water quality, and their conservation will benefit from the decision support tools (DST) that will be refined or developed based on our Critical Zone integrated understanding of how the environment functions. These tools will allow these stakeholders to be guided on best management practices for their business and the environment. The DSTs will lead to improvements in their quality of life, ensuring the fundamental needs (generation of food and associated economic development; access to water of appropriate quality) and decisions of how to achieve these, are underpinned by a useful knowledge-base.
2. Commercial organisations that depend on innovation, such as 'app' developers will benefit from our engagement with them to explore in what form the decision support tools should be made available. Moreover, the DSTs will be useful to agronomists and the fertiliser industry. Specific interest from two Chinese companies producing nutrients from sewage and other organic wastes has been demonstrated in letters of support.
3. This joint research will remain of benefit to the NSFC, raising their profile in the UK and amongst other critical zone scientists. The exchanges of skills and information that will occur during this research with Chinese colleagues will build international competitiveness of science in both UK and the UK. The research will ultimately demonstrate to the international scientific community the value sensitive environments, and the benefits of international cooperation in research to tackle grand challenges of food security, land degradation and climate change. It will help consolidate each country's position as a future key research partner, and particularly the NSFC in China as a partner of choice for future cofunded research with the UK.
4. Through publication and conference activity, the Chinese and UK academic parties will demonstrate to the community how their scientific endeavour can be used to create tangible outputs to improve the quality of life and global environment for those on low incomes or managing degraded land. They will benefit through enhanced international standing and resultant funded research collaboration.
5. The wider public, and local communities hosting the research, will benefit during the research activity through research team communication activity that meets their passion for and excites them to understand the natural world more deeply. This also includes those not involved directly in the research who may be asked to help gather data and in turn will receive training in new skills. In turn if this encourages greater interest in how STEM subjects also inform social development, the relevant country science base will benefit.
6. Through progress towards achieving sustainable development goals the global community will benefit.


10 25 50
Description Rothamsted Research and the partners in China worked with a DST to predict soil carbon storage and crop yield under different climate change scenarios for the Loess Plateau. This couples agricultural output with environmental impacts. One paper has been published and another paper is expected this year. However, further work needs face-to-face interaction.
Exploitation Route The output might be used a reference for policy on net zero
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment

Description Drawing on the results obtained in the first phase of the UK/China CZO projects, we are developing simple tools to help make decisions that guide more sustainable farming practices in China. We are developing Decision Support Tools that are underpinned by critical zone science. This brings in processes involved in landscape evolution, such as geochemistry, deep processes like nitrogen leaching and the impacts of different management practices. New work planned for this year will use a natural capital approach to assess the economic implications of different management approaches. We already have functioning decision support tools that have been developed for the regions where our critical zone observatories are located. Moreover, we have assessed over 400 existing decision support tools, but found that most were inappropriate because they were either too limited or geographically inappropriate for China. Only about a dozen existing DSTs were thought to be suitable for use in China. There was a gap, however, in decision support tools that incorporated both agricultural and economic impacts. Our research is also exploring the use of urban waste streams for fertiliser development. Nutrients are being mined from sewage and manufactured into a product that is not too dissimilar in appearance to conventional chemical fertiliser. There are concerns about pathogens and heavy metals that are being assessed further using advanced molecular biology techniques and plant biochemistry to assess pollutant uptake. We plan to incorporate these findings into unique decision support tools, providing that time is available over the short duration of the project. Impact is being hampered significantly by the winter 2020 coronavirus outbreak. Travel to China remains restricted into 2021 so we are not able to conduct impact work in China. We are uncertain about the ability to travel to China before March 2022 when the project ends.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description CAAS 
Organisation Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Providing research facilities and resources, including the North Wyke Farm Platform and co-supervising PhD students. Input to joint publications.
Collaborator Contribution Supporting travel and subsistence costs of visiting researchers. Providing expertise and scientific staff time in soil quality and environment. Input to joint publications.
Impact joint publications: Liang, S., Sun, N., Zhang, X., Li, Y., Xu, M., and Wu, L. (2019). Modeling crop yield and nitrogen use efficiency in wheat and maize production systems under future climate change. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 115, 117-136. Ren, F., Sun, N., Xu, M., Zhang, X., Wu, L., and Xu, M. (2019). Changes in soil microbial biomass with manure application in cropping systems: A meta-analysis. Soil and Tillage Research 194, 104291. degree awarded
Start Year 2016
Description Henan HAAS 
Organisation Henan Academy of Agricultural Sciences
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This is an International Joint Laboratory of Cereal Sustainable Development in Henan Province. The responsibility of my team is to oversee model application.
Collaborator Contribution The collaborative partners will provide experimental data to verify simulation results.
Impact N/A
Start Year 2021
Description training course 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact two-day training course on the SPACSYS model held at North West A&F University. After the training, the participants are expected to understand mechanisms and functions implemented in the model, know how to connect the SQL server to the model, be able to run a simulation by operating various inputs and parameter and eventually create new simulations with own study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019