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

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

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 that will be refined or developed based on our Critical Zone integrated understanding of the environment functions. These tools will allow them to think about how best to manage their environment and 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 responsible for 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.

3. This joint research will remain of benefit to NSFC, raising their profile in the UK and amongst other critical zone scientists. The skill and information exchange that will occur during this research with Chinese colleagues, ultimately demonstrating to the international scientific community, that we value sensitive environments internationally, and particularly international cooperation in research, will help consolidate each country's position as a future key research partner and particularly the Chinese National Science Foundation as a partner of choice for future co-funded research.

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 living in poverty. 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 included 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 infom social development, the relevant country science base will benefit.

6. Through progress towards achieving sustainable development goals the global community will benefit.

Publications

10 25 50