Drowning in data: Making sense of high resolution and cutting edge analyses of soil organic matter

Professor Alain Plante1

1Department of Earth & Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia


Soil scientists are increasingly using a wide range of cutting-edge, high resolution analytical techniques. This enormous amount of data is used to characterize the composition of the soil microbial community and the chemical composition of soil organic matter. We are increasingly challenged with interpreting this data and converting it into quantitative, predictive, and model-ready information about the biogeochemical stability of soil organic matter. Specifically, conceptual advances questioning the role of recalcitrance and the difficulties of parameterizing global-scale models of carbon cycling have raised questions about the value and utility of high resolution soil organic matter composition data. Using case studies, this presentation will address questions such as: How much data do we need? What are the best uses for high-resolution data? Cutting edge, high resolution methods will require new questions and experiments, but hold great promise in delivering new insights into soil organic matter.


Alain Plante is Professor and Undergraduate Chair in the Department of Earth & Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He earned a BSc(Eng) in Environmental Engineering from the University of Guelph (1994), a Masters in Soil Science from the University of Guelph (1996), and a PhD in Soil Science from the University of Alberta (2001). He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institut National de Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in Versailles, France and the Natural Resource Ecology Lab (NREL) at Colorado State University. He has been Visiting Faculty and Research at Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, France, Plant and Food in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Centre Europeen de Recherche et d’Enseignement des Geosciences de l’Environment in Aix-en-Provence, France. He currently serves as Subject Editor for Soil Biology and Biochemistry, and Chair of the Soil Biology and Biochemistry Division of the Soil Science Society of America. He has published several book chapters and over 70 peer-reviewed publications, 15 of which have been cited over 100 times. His research interests lie in the fields of soil science and terrestrial carbon biogeochemistry, where he focuses on the mechanisms and processes that act to stabilize and destabilize organic carbon in surface soils, and the links between the soil carbon balance and the broader global carbon cycle. He is recognized as a global leader in the development and application of thermal analysis techniques to characterize soil organic matter composition and stability.


7th International Symposium
Soil Organic Matter

6 – 11 October 2019

Hilton Adelaide

Adelaide, South Australia


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