A catch up from the North!

Its been a while since I last blogged for The Dirt Doctors! Therefore, I thought that I’d give you an update as to what’s been happening in my PhD world. Firstly, I can’t believe that 10 months has passed since I started. I feel that I’ve learnt so much already having only barely scratched the surface!

For those unaware or may have forgotten what my PhD is all about, here’s a short synopsis: my research is all about Digital Soil Mapping, with a particular emphasis on applications for soil functions and to improve the overall data quality for Scotland, England and Wales. My first task has been to send out a questionnaire to investigate who is using soil information and in particular, where this information is ‘hidden’. By ‘hidden’ I refer to soils information which is embedded within tools and assessments (e.g. Land Capability for Agriculture (LCA) and Hydrology of Soil Types (HOST)). This research is focused throughout the UK and Europe and I have tried to target the questionaire at people in the regulatory, learned societies, local authority and other relevant trade body groups. In Scotland, the Soil Monitoring Action Plan and SEWeb have begun to scratch the surface of investigating user needs however my own research is looking further afield and the wider picture rather than asking people what their specific needs and recommended improvements may be.

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Snapshot of questionnaire responses to date

To date, I have received an overwhelming response and as such have plenty of data to play with. Hopefully, this information will help guide me towards a paper I’m currently writing. This is a document which the Scottish Government have shown interest in potentially using, and most importantly, deliver crucial information helping to shape my own PhD. There could be great potential to model this data, so watch this space!

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In amongst all this, I’ve been starting to really concentrate on the mapping component of my PhD, notably soil properties for the UK. I’ve been working hard alongside my PhD supervisors to knuckle down and discover appropriate datasets that could be used in my mapping model, ranging from climate information, land cover classes, parent material, geology and relief to name a few. I’ve been playing about in ArcGIS and SAGA to see what we already have and as a result am already seeing some interesting data that could be used. River network data in particular is something that could be useful. Along with soil data from the James Hutton Institute, I have sourced similar data from Cranfield University’s LandIS, having now placed this into a large database which I hope will initially help me to look at the data in a manageable way.

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A database comes together…

Things really have taken off here and you may be wondering how I’ve managed to be so positive throughout all this. I really love doing my PhD. When I was given the offer of doing a PhD back in September 2014 I didn’t have to think twice. I really enjoy science and the environment in which we live in  – I wake up every morning with a smile on my face and I learn something new every day – where else are you going to get that opportunity in life? Sure there are good days and bad days but when all is said and done, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have to take the rough with the smooth. These next couple of months are going to really crank up but if I can keep the positivity going, then I’m confident I can keep to track. I’ve been so thankful to my supervisors (Helaina Black and Allan Lilly at Hutton and Ron Corstanje and Thomas Mayr at Cranfield) for their supportive help and to fellow Hutton and Cranfield students and colleagues for being there to give me some useful insights as well. I will certainly continue to utilise their help.

The first 10 months of my PhD have flown by and as I said earlier, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. It really is the best experience – long may it continue!!

Author: Grant Campbell

Cover Photo: Satellite Image of Scotland (Source: news.stv.tv)

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