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: Sustainable Agriculture Sciences-NW


This collaborative UK-China project proposes will establish a suite of Decision Support Tools (DSTs) that incorporate knowledge advances from the ongoing Phase 1 UK-China Critical Zone science research programme. With these advances, DSTs currently used in the UK and China will be adapted, expanded, tested and applied. The DSTs, data sets and decision outcomes will guide and evaluate site-specific innovation in soil and water management, and create roadmaps to scale up impact outcomes and plans to regional and national scale in China. The project will integrate the teams and research results of the 5 projects funded in Phase 1. Phase 2 will deliver immediate innovation in decision support methods and their application, and pathways to long-term impact and ODA outcomes: to restore ecosystems, improve soil fertility and water quality, improve farming livelihoods and improve food and water security. Impact delivery will focus on 5 critical zone observatories (CZOs) in China, established in Phase 1, which are located in regions with large-scale environmental and economic challenges related to degraded soil and water resources.

1. Hydro Karst CZO in SW China - land use and water quality linked to nutrient contamination of aquifers and surface waters in transmissive carbonate terrain
2. Peri-Urban CZO in the Yangtze delta - soil contamination from urban atmospheric deposition and intensification of agricultural chemical use
3. SPECTRA Karst CZO in SW China - Ecosystem degradation and karstic desertification linked with soil erosion and loss of soil fertility
4. Red Soils CZO - loss of soil fertility from intensification of agricultural production
5. Loess CZO - ecosystem degradation under intensification of rural land use

Participatory research with stakeholders in China will identify the land, water and food demand conflicts that need be addressed in the regions of the CZOs. This KE is designed to avoid a recognised mismatch between the way DSTs are conceptualised by scientists and how DSTs may be most effectively used by stakeholders. Recent reviews of DSTs for land, water and food sustainability provide a platform for assessing the suitability of different DSTs to the challenges of China. The UK and China teams and stakeholders will identify the most promising DST approaches and test these using the data sets of the 5 CZOs. The outputs will be tested with a wider set of DST users and potential users. The outcomes will allow mapping DSTs and their suitability to address soil and water management challenges at the 5 CZO sites. This work will assess effectiveness of the DSTs across the scales of interest for stakeholder groups at the sites. This will include identifying sustainable practices, the scale at which the CZO and related measurements strengthen the evidence base and inform practices for management decisions, and how adaptations in a DST methodology would improve site-specific application. The project will apply national data sets on the geographic variability of soil and water resource demand and use patterns, and natural conditions of geology, soil, vegetation cover, climate and weather. Through engagement with regional planners, the project will design pathways to scale up the DST outcomes for application in regional-scale resource planning. The final stage will be synthesis of the adapted, applied and upscaled DST methods into practical guidance in how to deploy the DSTs in regionally specific contexts, the capabilities of different DSTs and applicability of DST outputs. The institutional partners in China will publish the guidance and organisations will be identified and trained as superusers to disseminate training. Superusers will conduct a series of regional workshops in China, led by Chinese partners, to create a network of users who are at the forefront of innovation in soil and water management planning and implementation.

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.


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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 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