Pedometrics Conference Blog

“In this blog post, Grant Campbell discusses his highlights from the recent Pedometrics Conference he attended in Wageningen.”

At the end of June, I attended my first ever international PhD conference in Wageningen, Holland centred around the theme of Pedometrics. This was an extra special conference for me because I was a part of the conference’s 25th anniversary and it provided me with a great opportunity to meet fellow PhD students and experts in my research field of Digital Soil Mapping (DSM) in an international environment. It also provided me with an opportunity to present my latest work I’ve been doing on DSM of soil properties across Great Britain. During the week there were a lot of things on offer and I will explain my experiences in this post below. According to the book, there were 5 workshops, 6 keynote speakers, 130 oral talks and 120 poster presentations: a LOT of science!

Day 1 – Exploration Day

Whilst many of the participants attended the workshops on the Monday, I decided to utilise my day exploring Wageningen itself. I always feel coming to conferences and events that I never give myself the opportunity to find out what actually goes on in some of these places. After a successful first night’s sleep in the Hof van Wageningen where I was staying, I took the walk up to the Wageningen University  to explore some of the grounds. As you can tell from my pictures, its buildings are delightfully quirky, sometimes extraordinary but almost certainly different. After spending quite a bit of time around the campus, I took a walk towards the botanical gardens and other delights that Wageningen had to offer, even bypassing their (once upon a time) professional football club that sadly went bust in 1992. It certainly was a day to imbed myself into surroundings around the area and it was a day that kept me calm ahead of the amount of science that was going to be thrown at me in the coming days.

Wageningen University – as you can see some cracking designed buildings!

Day 2

The buzz to kick start the conference was certainly something to behold. A lot of excited voices, a lot of intense chattering, it was certainly game on for plenty soil science discussions.  After an initial welcome from Gerard Heuvelink to the conference, we were treated to two excellent keynote presentations from speakers Alfred Hartemink who discussed how the pedon is at the core of Digital Soil Morphometrics and Laura Poggio who looked into fusing data and expert knowledge for Digital Soil Assessment (DSA). I personally found both presentations thought provoking and very insightful.

Keynote Speakers Alfred Hartemink (left) and Laura Poggio (right)

The day then moved into some parallel sessions where attendees could go along to a range of oral presentation sessions on themes centred on soil monitoring, uncertainty in soil data and predictions & geostatistics. I decided to attend the uncertainty session hosted by British Geological Survey’s  Murray Lark. In this session, I listened to a range of topics from speakers on themes such as uncertainty in soil properties from a hydrological point of view, the anatomy of errors from soil property measurements and improving accuracy of spatial modelling in soil carbon. Murray hosted an excellent session which was chaired to a tee!

One such talk in this session was provided by Zamir Libohova

After a really excellent lunch, I decided to attend the plenary session on data fusion in soil mapping and modelling hosted by University of Sydney’s own Brendan Malone (who I finally got introduced to after discussions on Twitter before the conference!). Again, there was a real wide range of topics from the speakers from rainfall magnitudes in DSM  to the potential of LUCAS for developing regional-scale spectral models for predictions of soil properties.

There were other sessions that attendees went to here concerning proximal soil sensing and Digital Soil Morphometrics. The next session involved poster presentations pitches and this is where I came into play. I was nervous but I thought I sold my poster pitch well and I certainly got some useful feedback and advice at the session.

From top left: Poster pitch – thanks to Brendan Malone for picture.

Top Right: Here I am trying to give one of the attendees some more information on my research.

Bottom left: Thanks to Hannah Cooper for the excellent photo of me with my poster!

The day ended with a few of us soil scientists going for a meal which was most certainly needed after the science goings on! Cheers to Jean Robertson, Margaret Oliver, Murray and others for their company.

Here I am mixing it up with the greats including BGS’ Murray Lark and EJSS editor Margaret Oliver!

Day 3

The next day kick started with two keynote presentations from Tom Orton on sample support in connection to soils data and a talk from Jianghao Wang on what Pedometrics can learn from big data – another two excellent keynote presentations.

Keynote speakers Tom Orton and Jianghao Wang kick off Day 2 of conferencing!

After a short break for a group photograph, I went to attend a mix of talks from a range of different sessions which included a talk from my good friend and STARS PhD student Hannah Cooper who was looking into mapping impact of zero tillage on the biophysical properties of the soil. Hannah came across extremely well and I think she gave an excellent talk!

Hannah provided an excellent talk on impact mapping of zero tillage on biophysical soil properties!

After lunch, we were then introduced to a few presentations at a very exciting and interesting 25th anniversary celebration session. The session began with the Alex McBratney and Jaap De Gruitjer talking about the start of Pedometrics and the journey it has undertaken to date. After the duo completed their presentation, BGS’ Murray Lark stepped up to discuss the past, present and future methods of mathematical models in Pedometrics – another very entertaining session.

First session of 25th anniversary talks from Alex and Jaap (left) and Murray (right)

The session was then suspended for a coffee break featuring EXCELLENT 25th anniversary cake and a quiz centred on soils!

Left: My James Hutton Institute colleague Matt Aitkenhead mischievously looking to steal a bit of cake before everyone else.

Right: What is the answer to this question? Jetse Stoorvogel presents an excellent quiz!

After that, the anniversary session resumed with another two very good talks by Sabine Grunwald on the past, present and future of soil physical, chemical and biological process knowledge in Pedometrics and David Rossiter who looked into the past, present and future IT advancements in Pedometrics. Overall, this was a fantastic way to end an excellent 2nd day’s conferencing!

Left: Sabine Grunwald and David Rossiter (right) close an excellent 25th anniversary celebration session

Day 4

The penultimate day of the Pedometrics Conference began with a talk from Mike Kirkby from the University of Leeds who looked into implementing a conceptual model of physical and chemical soil profile evolution. This was another engaging talk and made us think about the soils more specifically that what we may not have thought about on a regular basis.

Mike Kirkby gives his keynote speech

After this, I attended the plenary session on Bayesian Statistics where I was treated to three excellent talks including one from my James Hutton Institute colleague Nikki Baggaley who was looking at incorporating spectroscopic data, land management, soil drainage and soil erosion observations into Bayesian Belief framework for modelling soil erosion risk.

Nikki giving her talk on modelling soil erosion risk which came across very well and was particularly interesting!

I then attended a mix of talks at different plenary sessions after a short coffee break. These ranged from looking at DSM as an online service using cloud software to looking at spectroscopy and remote sensing and its links to assessing the degradation of peatlands. I was also glad to attend my fellow Cranfield University colleague Joanna Zawadzka‘s talk which was on teaching DSM as an example of contemporary environmental survey methods. Having been a part of Joanna’s teaching session twice previously I could certainly connect to a lot of things that was talked about. I found it an engaging talk and I hope others benefited from this!

Joanna Zawadzka presents her research

The afternoon was also a bit of a mix in terms of talks I went to. I attended presentations linking from using certain modelling methods for DSM to mapping soilscapes using co-occurence networks. I was also very interested to attend another one of my Hutton colleagues Zisis Gagkas who was looking into soil hydrological classification mapping (HOST) in Scotland using DSM and Random Forest Modelling. This was particuarly interesting for me and I found Zisis’s talk excellent!

Another great talk by Zisis on DSM and Random Forest modelling to improve HOST classification mapping in Scotland.

There was another session of poster pitches and a session to explore posters before heading off to the conference dinner at night.

The Conference dinner was a rather interesting evening which took place in a Zoo…Yes, you may laugh, but the busses took us to the Burgers Zoo just outside Wageningen for the meal at night! A rather interesting and unusual choice of location but one that worked extremely well! After a great evening of food, drink and terrible dancing, the conference rolled onto the final day for me on the Friday.

The dinner and dancing which took place at Burgers Zoo really was a great way to end Day 4! All sorts of shenanigans there!

Day 5

The final day, after an excellent night before, began with a keynote talk from Rob Beens and Peter van Erp talk who were discussing the marketability and business concept for fast and reliable soil sensing. This was very different from the other talks and I found it particularly interesting indeed.

Keynote speaker Rob Beens and Peter Van Erp giving their presentation

I then attended a few talks in the DSM and assessment session which ranged from mapping patterns of organic matter decomposition in mountainous areas to developing the Chinese Digital Soil Map.

Plenary session on DSM and assessment I attended

After another excellent discussion over lunch with fellow associates, I attended a few other talks ranging from discussing peat depth using electromagnetic induction in a Scottish peatland to comparing soil formation and geostatistical modelling. I was also privileged to sit in and listen to my supervisor Jack Hannam‘s talk looking at seeing inside a pedologists head and asking us whether machine learning algorithms landscape specific. I particularly liked the analogy connected with the card game Top Trumps!

Top Trumps slide (left) from Jack’s talk (right). A very passionate presentation which certainly got me thinking!

The session was ended by an excellent final keynote from another one of the founders of DSM research Budiman Minasny who looked at unearthing soil change with what he called ‘dirty’ data! It was a very thought provoking talk which certainly got me thinking about how to deal with data that may be incomplete or not ideal to work with.

Budiman Minasny’s passionate talk on dealing with ‘dirty data’

Winners

A short mention to congratulate the students who won awards at the Pedometrics Conference notably Wartini Ng from The University of Sydney for Best Oral Presentation entitled: Rapid sensing of petroleum-contaminated soils with mid infrared spectrometers and Alexandre M.J-C. Wadoux from Wageningen University for Best Poster Presentation entitled: Modelling the soil information content of mid-infrared spectra at European scale.

Reflections

As the conference closed, I reflected on one of the best experiences I have ever had since I started my PhD. Being my first international conference made it extra special and I would encourage all students during the PhD’s to try to attend a conference internationally. It is definitely a different experience from attending a conference at national level as you can mix it up with different colleagues and networks from different countries and get a sense of the different philosophies that people are implementing in their own research. The Pedometrics Conference was an invaluable experience for me and I’ll certainly take a lot of the feedback, connections and thoughts on board going forward for the rest of my own PhD.

Cheers Pedometrics!

Author: Grant Campbell

Twitter: @Stato_Grant

Acknowledgement to Guy Ackermans for using some of his photos from the conference. More can be found here.

Sadly after the conference, I was stunned to hear the news of the death of one of the participants Ivan Rodrigo Orjuela Osorio after a traffic accident. I met Ivan for a short time at the conference and like me he was very enthusiastic about his PhD research which was on soil carbon prediction by spectroscopy which he was working on at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. A great person taken far too soon. My personal condolences go out to his close friends, family and colleagues. RIP Ivan.

Condolences can be left here