SusSEd 2019 - Soil and the World Beneath Our Feet

Hands Holding Soil

This year's Sustainable Skills and Education series is starting next week. The theme of the talks is Soil and the World Beneath Our Feet and they will explore how soil forms the foundation of many aspects of our lives and is vital to a sustainable future.

The series will cover a broad range of topics from major policy decisions, to artificial soil in refugee camps, to cereal killers. Organised by Green Impact in collaboration with the Grantham Centre for Sustainable futures, the talks will be delivered by their researchers and PhD scholars. This is a fantastic opportunity to get an insight into the centre's world leading research.

Sessions will run from 12:10 to 13:00 between early February and early March. They are free to attend and open to all University of Sheffield staff and students. Undergraduates will also get HEAR recognition for attending 5 or more talks.

Tickets can be reserved by following the links to the Eventbrite pages. Booking your place for these talks is not strictly necessary, but it will help the organisers greatly and allow you to avoid disappointment should the venue become full.


Monday 4th February: Professor Duncan Cameron – Unintended consequences of single issue environmentalism: Be careful what you wish for…
Hicks Lecture Theatre 1

Some of the biggest challenges of our time require bold policy decisions to tackle them. However these issues are often a lot more nuanced than they initially appear. Professor Duncan Cameron, co-director of the Plant Production and Protection Centre, will give us an expert’s insight into this; “In this lecture I will explore how policy decisions, that from first principles appear sensible mechanisms for enhancing the environmental sustainability of food production, can ultimately generate perverse and unintentional negative environmental consequences. I will use examples from my research into sustainable food production that take a systems level approach to developing policy interventions that enhance sustainability of the agri-food system. I will specifically focus on my recent research into links between marine and terrestrial food productions systems taking aquaculture in Tasmania as a case study.”.


Tuesday 12th February: Naomi Oates – Exploring the everyday politics of groundwater – insights from rural Malawi
Arts Tower Lecture Theatre 9

We all know that water is essential to life, however in the UK we are fortunate that its availability is rarely an issue. Elsewhere this is not the case. In this talk Naomi Oates, PhD researcher and Grantham Scholar, will explore some of the often forgotten challenges to securing reliable water supplies; “Sustaining water resources and infrastructure to meet human (and environmental) needs is often thought of as a techno-managerial problem. I argue that water services are inherently political, entangled in everyday lives. Policies and practices are shaped by negotiation, personal interests, cultural values and social relationships. I use ethnographic methods to explore these dynamics in Malawi, where groundwater is a crucial resource for rural households.”.


Tuesday 19th February (Joint Talk): Marta Crispo – The bright side of black carbon in urban environments
Arts Tower Lecture Theatre 9

Air pollution is a hot topic at the moment with the effects it has on our health widely publicised. However it is not only our lungs that suffer, the environment around us does too. In this talk Marta Crispo, PhD researcher and Grantham Scholar, will give an introduction into the importance of soil and the ecosystem services it provides. She will also share her research into the influences of black carbon on urban soil properties, food and biofuels. Black carbon is a carbonaceous material produced from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass as well as the product of weathering of graphite.

And: Harry Wright – Flexible Polyurethane foam as a synthetic growing substrate
Hydroponic or soil-less cultivation techniques are used to grow high value horticultural crops globally and have had good success in areas where soil health is poor. Current substrates used for these techniques have several drawbacks including high energy use during production and difficulties with waste disposal.
Polyurethane foams meet many of the requirements of being a successful growing substrate and many of the properties of the foam can be varied by changing the chemical composition of the polyurethane foam. Polyurethane foams can be reacted at ambient temperatures and are recyclable helping reduce the environmental impact of hydroponic growing techniques. In this talk Harry Wright, PhD researcher and Grantham Scholar, will share some of his own work supporting displaced people; “I will be going through some of our work so far on optimising a foam for use as a growing media, as well as some work that has been done in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, using waste mattresses as a growing media to teach hydroponic techniques.”.


Tuesday 26th February (Joint Talk): David Rapley – Witchweeds and Armyworms: Taking soil back from the ‘cereal killers’ of sub-Saharan Africa
Arts Tower Lecture Theatre 9

The parasitic witchweed ‘Striga’ is the most severe biological limitation to cereal crop production in sub-Saharan Africa, infesting 28-68% of farmland across 25 countries and causing estimated losses of up to 7 billion USD per year. Infested soil can hold tens of thousands of dust-like Striga seeds per square meter, and when Striga seeds infect the roots of their hosts plants, this can often lead to 100% crop failure. Striga infestation is higher in nutrient-deficient soils, a huge problem for rural subsistence farmers who cannot afford fertilizer. Food insecurity and rural poverty across Africa is being worsened furthermore by recent outbreaks of the armyworm, alongside Striga infestation. Emerging from cocoons in the soil, armyworm moths produce larvae whose feeding on crops is estimated to cause losses of 6 billion USD per year. This talk will discuss the challenges and opportunities of current pest management techniques, as well as one potential future management technique that forms part of PhD student and Grantham Scholar David’s research, all with the goal of empowering subsistence farming in sub-Saharan Africa to take back control of the soil.

And: Adriano Dias – Informal Urban Settlements of the Global South: Measuring resource use and processes

Despite occupying less than 2% of earths surface cities are home to 56% of the world population. It is vital to understand the complex processes that happen in cities all over the world. In the literature, Urban Metabolism is often proposed as a framework for quantifying, tracing and measuring the flows and stocks of resources of a certain region. However, in Global South cities so called Informal Settlements occur where unprivileged and deprived regions are formed within the urban area. They generally lack basic infrastructure and services, representing some of the poorest living conditions found. These areas also present considerable data gaps for understanding and measuring infrastructure and resource use, and the complex social processes in parallel. In this talk Adriano, a PhD student and Grantham Scholar, will explore how to tackle this gap and the direct connections of these unprivileged urban communities with soil and the associated vulnerabilities and conflicts, with a glimpse at a few Rio favela’s.


Tuesday 5th March: Jennifer Veenstra – The Matter of Soil
Arts Tower Lecture Theatre 9

Soils provide invaluable services to the environment and humankind around the Globe. However, not all soils do the same: soils’ functionality depend on the particular combination of components and the soil’s health. In this talk PhD student and Grantham Scholar Jennifer will explore soil functions by presenting some of their peculiar features, which add to soils’ capability to surprise us when we learn how to unravel their secrets! To finish we will have a quiz about soils.


Wednesday 6th March: Professor Tony Ryan – The Natural History of the PET Bottle
Alfred Denny Lecture Theatre 1

In this talk Professor Tony Ryan, director of the Grantham Centre, will lead us through the natural history of the PET bottle. When did we all start carrying a plastic bottle of water around? Bottled water was once a western luxury and for some people it developing nations it is now an urban necessity. You’ll hear lots of facts and figures and stories to dine out on. A million PET bottles are made per minute. Current plastic production is 300 million tonnes a year. Over the last 50 years the mass of plastic we’ve made is more than all the people who’ve ever lived, and the amount of plastic we’ve recycled is less than the mass of people alive today. We’ll learn how bottles are made and which products go inside them. Then how they are recycled and reused. And finish with our work on a circular plastic economy. #redefining single use.