Znak Politechniki Warszawskiej

INSPIRATION project

The implementation of the project will last until March 31, 2020

The implementation of the project will last until March 31, 2020, photo by Jolanta Kwiatkowska-Malina

With food safety and climate change at heart.

How to make agricultural production feed the population without degrading the environment? An international team implementing the INSPIRATION project is set to find out. And scientists of the Warsaw University of Technology Faculty of Geodesy and Cartography are part of these efforts. The project concerns an innovative approach to the impact assessment of sustainable intensification of agriculture on soil and surface and underground water resources in the context of food safety, natural resources protection and climate change.

Although essential to ensure food security, intensive agricultural management often leads to soil degradation and surface and/or underground water pollution. Therefore, it is important to carry out research and then develop tools and best practices to make agriculture both intensive and sustainable. This challenge is addressed by the participants of the INSPIRATION project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Program.

Eleven leading European universities are engaged in the project. In addition to the Warsaw University of Technology, these are universities and research institutes in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. The project beneficiaries arrange for junior scientists from outside their native country to come to complete specific tasks under the project. Their research work should result in a doctoral dissertation and a PhD degree award. Fifteen junior scientists have been recruited under the INSPIRATION project. Additionally, each participating beneficiary (university/research institute) collaborates with a partner of their choice (in the science or business sector).

The importance of humic substances

“Unlike most of the other consortium members/beneficiaries, our task under the INSPIRATION project is concerned with the soil environment rather than waters: underground and surface ones,” says Jolanta Kwiatkowska-Malina, PhD Eng., a university professor.

At the WUT Faculty of Geodesy and Cartography Chair of Spatial Management and Environmental Science, she supervises the PhD dissertation work of Collins Amoah-Antwi, MSc, from Ghana, who has been selected out of 40 candidates from all over the world. The aim of his dissertation is to describe a model of organic matter changes/transformations in soil. It is about looking into how long and how fast changes (mineralization / humification) of exogenous organic matter take to occur. To find out, you need to run an array of field and laboratory tests, including on soil probes and extracted humic and fulvic acid samples. And this is a challenge because organic matter changes / transformations in soil are a very lengthy process and the project schedule allows just three years for completing a PhD dissertation. On top of that, scientists must rely on weather conditions and phenological cycles, which are beyond their control.

“Our partner on this project is the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW) and we utilize their continuous long-term field trials set up at the Skierniewice-based Faculty Experiment Station in 1921,” explains Professor Kwiatkowska-Malina. “They look very promising to us because these are ones of the oldest static long-term field trials in Europe and you can use historical data and the current field trials to explore and forecast potential changes in the soil environment. However, we do not restrict our research to Poland. We also use similar trials in Germany and Austria. My PhD student has set up a field trial of biocoal, a relatively new source of exogenous soil organic matter. This way, we will also capture initial data on this topic.”

Soil research with focus on organic matter is the key to sustainable agriculture. “This is an essential component of the solid soil phase,” says Professor Kwiatkowska-Malina. “Thus, we want exogenous organic matter to undergo humification as much as possible and not mineralization, meaning to have transformations produce mainly humus and not inorganic compounds such as carbon dioxide, ammonia or hydrogen sulfide.

Why is it so important? It is because humus enhances soil quality and characteristics. It ensures, e.g., adequate water management, temperature and aeration. It reduces leaching of micro- and macronutrients to help plants grow to their full size and maturity. It also provides protection against the negative impact of pollution. The conclusion is one: we have to do what we can to prevent soil humus decrease.

A win-win for all

The INSPIRATION project is designed to achieve the European Union’s policy objectives on food safety, natural resources protection, renewable energy and climate change. Therefore, all PhD dissertations written under the project must precisely address the project task, guarantee research excellence and advance interdisciplinary team research. “The project has direct application value,” says Professor Kwiatkowska-Malina. “We do not confine ourselves to knowledge in its own right, but we are working towards something that should find an application.”

For this reason, it is essential that the project participants, both PhD students and their supervisors, work in collaboration. “We keep in touch via email and meet up in person during related workshops / summer schools,” explains Professor Kwiatkowska-Malina. “On such occasions, we have internal discussions and reach out to external stakeholders – farmers, businesses – the main users of the project, who share their experiences and communicate their needs and expectations in that respect.”

Working on such an interdisciplinary and multinational team is very beneficial for all parties involved. For junior scientists who carry out research for their PhD dissertation, this is an opportunity to successfully launch a scientific career, and for their supervisors, this is a rewarding experience and a chance to confront their knowledge with that of foreign researchers and to forge valuable contacts. Ultimately, this multidimensional collaboration will be a win-win for all as we will be able to enjoy sufficient food resources and a healthier environment.

 

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The INSPIRATION project has been qualified for funding as the first one at the Faculty of Geodesy and Cartography and the sixth overall at the Warsaw University of Technology.

Learn more about the project at http://www.inspirationitn.eu/index.php

Project duration: April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2020.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 675120.

 

 

Agnieszka Kapela

Promotion and Information Office