Soil is one of our most important natural resources, yet most of the research on this vital part of our ecosystem resides in the top foot of soil. Little is known about deep soil environments and their role in agriculture, carbon sequestration and other processes. An $18.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build a Deep Soil Ecotron facility will enable University of Idaho researchers to explore this uncharted frontier.
The Deep Soil Ecotron will allow researchers to study soil up to 10 feet in depth – depths greater than anywhere else in the world. The facility will house 24 eco-units – huge columns used to study soil cores complete with above-ground plants and below-ground organisms such as insects and microbes. Researchers will be able to control a range of variables including temperature, water and exposure to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
“Deep soils are probably one of the last research frontiers,” said Michael Strickland, associate professor of microbial ecology in the U of I College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and principal investigator on the project. “Soils are inherently important to life on the planet from supporting plants to driving processes like carbon and nutrient cycling. This facility would enable us to better understand those processes at depth.”
The Ecotron will be housed in the JW Martin Laboratory on the Moscow campus with renovation expected to start in summer 2022.
“We don’t know where the climate trends are going and can’t prepare using past knowledge,” said Zachary Kayler, assistant professor of biogeochemistry and co-lead investigator. “This facility will allow us to perform experiments which will help us plan for those future environmental conditions.”