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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Geographical & Earth 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 (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 co-funded 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.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The key finding from the Glasgow-led component of this work is that we have a much more in-depth understanding of government, agricultural industry and farmer level interactions, and the ways in which they currently receive training and if/how a decision-support tool will assist them in the future at improving their agricultural practice for: a) economic benefits, helping meet ODA requirements (e.g. poverty alleviation) and b) the environmental impacts of their agricultural practice (e.g. lower fertiliser use with less effect on the surrounding environment). This work is directly informing the development of the DST and models in other parts of the multi-partner project. Due to COVID-19 and our inability to visit China as planned we adopted an alternative approach which was to set-up a weChat account for the project, allowing us to build a network of followers/viewers to answer online surveys and to read our outputs/watch our video etc. This helped us connect with people in China remotely.
Exploitation Route Yes, the method of social science research to provide an evidence base for the knowledge exchange of scientific information, and for designing co-produced research outcomes is a model that future projects could adopt, especially where UK scientists are working in countries where governance and training arrangements are lesser known at the outset of projects.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

 
Description This project has taken outputs from five earlier projects looking at ecosystem services and the critical zone in a joint NERC-Chinese initiative. The findings of these five projects have been summarised and shared with practitioners and policymakers in China, to illustrate some of the key scientific findings that can help them reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture. These data were shared as formal reports and as part of a conversation to encourage Chinese based policymakers and agriculture industry practitioners to work with us to develop a decision-support model that will help improve agricultural practice (and lead to environmental improvements).
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Webinar on WeChat platform
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact This webinar has been viewed by more than 150 people.
 
Description UK-China ECR Workshop 
Organisation Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Attending the UK-China ECR Workshop
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Yinlong Xu was one of the interviewees for KE during the workshop.
Impact ?
Start Year 2021
 
Description UK-China ECR Workshop 
Organisation Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Attending the UK-China ECR Workshop
Collaborator Contribution Dr. Tongquan Sun was one of the mentors in the workshop
Impact ?
Start Year 2021
 
Description UK-China ECR Workshop 
Organisation Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences
Country China 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Attending the UK-China ECR Workshop
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Yan Gao is one the of key contacts in the workshop
Impact ?
Start Year 2021
 
Description UK-China ECR Workshop 
Organisation Sichuan Agricultural University
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Attending the UK-China ECR Workshop
Collaborator Contribution Dr. Shenyun was one of the new contacts through the workshop
Impact Hi, Larissa, are there any outputs from this workshop?
Start Year 2021
 
Description UK-China ECR Workshop 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Attending the UK-China ECR Workshop
Collaborator Contribution Dr. Bin Wu was the organizer of the UK-China ECR Workshop
Impact Hi, Larissa, are there any outputs from this workshop?
Start Year 2021
 
Description A knowledge sharing platform based on WeChat 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact On the platform, we have published 41 WeChat articles and among which 28 articles are original articles.
Graphic-designed figures to support academic outputs and KE of the project via WeChat.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021,2022
 
Description Online DST survey 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact There are 19 participants for the online DST Survey covering governmental officials and academics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Stakeholder Workshop 2 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Nanjing Forum: November 21st - 23rd, 2019 Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS), Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of Jiangsu Province, Soil society of Jiangsu Province jointly organised 'Symposium on the efficient use of soil, fertiliser and water resources in the Yangtze River Economic Belt' and 'The 5th Jiangsu Academic Forum on Excellent Young Scientists in Soil and Agriculture' on 21st - 23rd November 2019. MIDST team in attendance: University of Glasgow: Ying Zheng University of Aberdeen: Paul Hallett, Joseph Oyesiku Blakemore, Xiangrui Xu Peking University/University of Exeter: Boyi Liang Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences: Shunhua Yang Nanjing University: Hongyan Guo Shanxi Normal University: Shuai Li 1. Overall summary The meeting was attended by 300+ people comprising mainly applied agricultural scientists, with representation from government ministries (?5 people) and industry (?10 people). The aim of the meeting was to bring together experts in agricultural and environmental science in China for discussions on the prevention and control of agricultural non-point source pollution, farmland nutrient management, soil health, and biodiversity conservation. Notable guests included Academicians Prof. Fusuo Zhang, Prof. Zhaoliang Zhu and Prof. Yongguan Zhu. News reports from the meeting included: http://newzhs.jaas.ac.cn/show-1068-589-1.html (News report from JAAS) and http://jsnews.jschina.com.cn/shms/201911/t20191125_2430202.html (News report from Jiangsu net). MIDST Co-hosted the "Symposium on the experience and problems of the efficient use of soil, fertiliser and water in the Yangtze River Economic Belt" along with the Station of Farmland Quality and Agricultural Environment Protection of Jiangsu Province (See appendix for agenda). Our interest in this meeting was to network with applied agricultural scientists in China who work more closely at the interface between science and farming than the Chinese collaborators on MIDST. JAAS are directly involved in the Peri-Urbon CZO, hosting field trials on the outskirts of Nanjing and providing expertise on agronomic performance of fertlisers derived from waste. We sought input from scientists and agricultural specialists on practical needs from Decision Support Tools (DSTs) targeted at improved agricultural and environmental performance. This was achieved through the hosting of this symposium and an exhibitor stand. Our symposium had a number of very relevant talks for DST developments. There were 10 talks that covered new fertilisers, machinery, environmental concerns and farmer engagement. Dr Ying Zheng finished the talks in the session by providing an overview of the MIDST project, summarising the work of the UK-China CZO programme. The practical challenges and policy relevance of our research was emphasised by our invited speaker, Director Du Sen of the Ministry of Agriculture. All talks were in Mandarin to ensure full engagement of the Chinese audience. We followed the talks with an open panel session discussion which provided the floor with the opportunity to ask all speakers questions. This included a targeted discussion on research needs for DST development in China. On Day 2 of the meeting, MIDST collaborator Prof Yongguan Zhu provided a talk that celebrated his very recent award as a CAS Academician. This was followed by another discussion forum on challenges facing agriculture and soils in China. Both Paul Hallett and Ying Zheng participated on stage to provide their insight and to guide questions towards DST development. MIDST had an Exhibition Stand throughout the entirety of the event. This had an animation of one of our functional DSTs, computers running other DSTs that we have tested for application in China, and pamphlets in both English and Mandarin summarising the project and aimed at either users or researchers. There was considerable 1:1 discussion, reaching over 100 people. To enable guided discussion, questionairres were given to participants to ask about their knowledge, experience, perceptions and needs for DSTs. The MIDST post docs and 2 PhD students managed to get conference participants to complete 65 individuals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.czo.ac.cn/category/news/research-news/