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Research and Development

Research program

NSSC-GRU is partnering with scientists at universities around the country to build an active research program focused on the development, use, and visualization of soil information in support of NSSC-GRU resource conservation and inventory activities.

NSSC-GRU funds projects that discover and apply new ideas to address current and future resource inventory and conservation challenges. Technology transfer between the research community and NSSC-GRU is a key goal of NGDC’s external research program. Other important goals include development of technology to improve NSSC-GRU activities and professional development and mentoring of potential employees.

NSSC-GRU research projects are typically funded through the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESU) National Network for a period of one or two years. NSSC-GRU occasionally funds projects through cooperative agreements or competitive contracts, as well. Current funding opportunities are described under Requests for Proposals.

Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units National Network The  CESU National Network is a partnership between universities, federal agencies, state agencies, tribes, and other organizations to conduct ecosystem studies research and education. CESUs provide an ideal framework within which to fund soil science and soil conservation related research.  NSSC-GRU research is primarily funded through CESU contracts. Agreements have already been established between each CESU’s member organizations; therefore future contracts between members are easily implemented.

Seventeen CESUs, each focused on a particular biogeographic region of the country, have been established. Approximately 175 colleges and universities, 13 federal agencies, and 40 NGOs and other partners are currently members of the CESU network. NSSC-GRU encourages potential collaborators to determine the status of their institution within the CESU National Network. Individuals at institutions that are not members of a CESU are encouraged to collaborate with colleagues at CESU institutions when preparing proposals in response to NSSC-GRU RFPs.

Research areas

The NSSC-GRU sponsors research on a variety of topics related to the development, use, visualization, and delivery of soil data. Current research areas include Digital Soil Mapping Applications, Digital Soil Mapping-Other Activities, Dynamic (Use-Dependent) Soil Properties, Hydropedology, and Use and Visualization of Soil Data.

Digital Soil Mapping Applications. Broadly speaking, Digital Soil Mapping is the use of computer-assisted techniques to make soil maps. These techniques include digital analogs of traditional cartographic techniques as well as quantitative modeling methods. Our focus in this research area is to explore and apply GIS, remote sensing, and statistical methods to develop quantitative soil predictions.

Digital Soil Mapping Software and Training. The focus of these activities is to develop and deliver the necessary software tools and training to transfer digital soil mapping technologies to NSSC-GRU soil scientists.

Dynamic (Use-Dependent) Soil Properties. Dynamic Soil Properties are soil properties that change in response to natural or human-induced causes over the human time scale (Tugel et al., 2005). Dynamic soil properties include soil organic carbon, bulk density, and saturated hydraulic conductivity, among others. Our focus in this research area is to document and understand how soil properties change in response to disturbances and to develop methods for assessing the extent of that change.  Tugel, A.J., J.E. Herrick, J.R. Brown, M.J Mausbach, W. Puckett, and K. Hipple. 2005. Soil change, soil survey, and natural resources decision making: A blueprint for action. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 69:738-747.

Hydropedology. Hydropedology is the study of interactive soil and water processes and their properties in the unsaturated zone (Lin, 2004) at multiple scales. The focus of our hydropedology research program is watershed-scale investigations of infiltration, subsurface water movement, and duration and effects of seasonally perched water tables under a variety of land uses. Research in this area is a joint effort between NGDC and the NSSC-GRU.  Lin, H. 2004. Hydropedology. Geotimes Earth, Energy, and Environment News.

Use and Visualization of Soil Data. Soils are complex natural bodies; likewise, soil information resources such as soil surveys, characterization information, and attribute databases are also complex. Our focus in this research area is to develop applications that will help expert and non-expert users analyze and understand soil processes and distribution in order to make land management decisions.