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[en] Full text: In 2020, 3141 samples were analysed for stable isotopes and 130 samples were measured for fallout radionuclides, respectively in the SWMCN Laboratory. Most analyses were carried out for supporting Research and Development activities at the SWMCNL focused on the design of affordable isotope and nuclear techniques to improve soil and water management in climate-smart agriculture. (author)
[en] Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, several planned training missions to the Himalayan and Andes region on the use of cosmic-ray neutron sensor technology were changed to a novel online teaching format, as part of the interregional project INT5156 on Building Capacity and Generating Evidence for Climate Change Impacts on Soil, Sediments and Water Resources in Mountainous Regions. In total 15 scientists from Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Ecuador participated on 17-19 August 2020, and 25 scientists from China, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan participated on 13-15 October 2020. They learned how to install, calibrate and use the innovative cosmic-ray neutron sensor technology for better managing water resources in highlands.
[en] Our yearly Joint FAO/IAEA Division staff training at Seibersdorf, funded by the FAO Headquarters in Rome, was organized from 12-16 October 2020 by the SWMCNL. This time the staff training was about the theoretical and practical principles of mathematical processing of (mid-infrared) spectral datasets for the prediction of characteristics of soils, plants, food or insects. The focus of the training was on the use of traditional partial least squares regression and advanced machine learning approaches, with case studies in Python or similar open-source data analysis toolboxes.
[en] A nuclear incident affects large territories through the deposition of radionuclides. This contamination can lead to long-term consequences for people and the economy. The subsequent data collection, data management and decision-making can become overwhelming with traditional methods, which inevitably increases the response time and effectiveness. A decision support system can aid with the efficient allocation of resources as well as the increase in transparency and robustness of the decision-making process. DSS4NAFA, a decision support system (DSS) jointly developed by the FAO and IAEA, can be used to manage and visualize this spatial data in real time. This research proposes a multi-criteria decision aiding system to optimize the remediation actions on a parcel basis, monitored by DSS4NAFA. The optimal agricultural decontamination strategy starts with the localization of the most urgent clean-up sites. Thereafter, the most applicable remediation action should be performed on the identified prioritized parcels and finally the optimal combination of remedial actions in time is proposed. To answer this first question - Where to act first? – The importance of an agricultural parcel is determined by a set of region-specific criteria and the corresponding decision makers (DM) preferences. The determination and importance of the criteria is completely dependent on the scale and stakeholders involved, it can range from a single farmer to an agricultural region with a multitude of decision makers.
[en] With global climate change, water availability will be a problem for agriculture and food production. Agriculture production consumes more than 70 percent of the world’s water resources, mainly for irrigation. With water use efficiency less than 50%, the challenge is to ensure adequate agricultural production while achieving maximum efficiency of irrigation water use. Climate-smart irrigation practices, including effective soil moisture monitoring, can help to meet this challenge and ensure longer water availability when drought is hitting the farmlands.
[en] In the aftermath of a nuclear emergency, the development of remediation strategies for agricultural areas is crucial to ensure food safety within the affected regions. One of the key radionuclides that poses a concern for food safety is radiocaesium (RCs). With the purpose to develop strategies to support remediation of radioactive contamination in agriculture, the SWMCNL aims to improve models predicting soil-to-plant transfer of radionuclides. This research activity is implemented under the Coordinated Research Project D1.50.19 on monitoring and predicting radionuclide uptake and dynamics for optimizing remediation of radioactive contamination in agriculture, launched in 2019.
[en] Oxygen-18 (18O) of plant tissues can provide information on the environmental conditions in which plants grow, because of its relation to stomatal conductance. Therefore, 18O signatures can also be related to plant stress. In future experiments, 18O will be used to assess whether fertilizer application or variety selection influences the reaction of plants to drought stress. In order to understand the dynamics of 18O isotopes in growing plants, it is necessary to know the isotopic signature of the water on which they are growing. This source water largely influences signatures which can be found in plant tissues. However, to analyze soil water, the first step is its extraction from the soil substrate. A popular way to extract soil water is cryogenic distillation. Here, soil water is almost completely extracted from the soil. However, plant roots are not able to extract all water from the soil with decreasing soil water contents. A method which samples water that resembles the water accessible for roots is centrifugation.
[en] The Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture launched a new Coordinated Research Project (D1.50.19) called “Monitoring and Predicting Radionuclide Uptake and Dynamics for Optimizing Remediation of Radioactive Contamination in Agriculture'', in October 2019. Within the CRP, the high-throughput characterization of soil properties and the estimation of soil-to-plant transfer factors of radionuclides are of critical importance. As already highlighted in Soils Newsletter Vol. 43, No. 1, July 2020, for several decades, soil researchers have been successfully using near and mid-infrared spectroscopy (MIRS) techniques to estimate a wide range of soil properties (Carbon, Nitrogen, CEC, Clay, Sand, pH, ...). In recent years, soil science researchers are increasingly shifting their focus from traditional modeling techniques such as PLSR (Partial Least Squares Regression) to new classes of algorithms, such as Ensemble Learning (Random Forest, Boosting, …) or Deep Learning (Convolutional Neural Networks), that have proven to outperform PLSR on most (if not all) soil properties prediction in a large data regime.
[en] Under the CRP D1.50.19 focusing on the optimization of remediation of radioactive contaminated agricultural land, one important objective is to update the existing decision support system DSS4NAFA to support data management during remediation activities in the aftermath of a nuclear emergency affecting food and agriculture. During remediation, the need exists for keeping an overview of the remediation activities and, in particular, where, when and how these activities are carried out. Further, it is imperative to keep track of the efficiency and effectiveness of remediation activities (e.g. reduction of soil and food contamination). At this moment the workflow for the remediation module is being developed in close collaboration with the CRP D1.50.19 research partners from across the world for addressing the above-mentioned needs for enhanced data management during remediation.
[en] Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to transform organic waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer. The end product is called vermicast, which is used as fertiliser or as a soil activator. There are many advantages of vermicomposting, such as the improvement of soil aeration, enrichment of the soil with beneficial microorganisms, and increased water holding capacity, leading to better root growth and structure. All these positive effects are well documented. However, there are some studies suggesting that worms produce potent greenhouse gases (GHG), in particular nitrous oxide. Biochar (BC) addition to the studied soil-worm systems reduce the emissions. Biochar is similar to charcoal, basically it is pyrolysed biomass, specifically produced to be added to soil, as a soil conditioner-carbon sequestration measure. It has been recognised that vermicomposting could play a significant role in the circular economy, particularly tackling food waste recycling in peri-urban areas, whilst creating green business opportunities. To confidently advocate these novel systems, knowledge of the pollution swapping risks must be assessed. Therefore, a study was proposed to determine the influence of vermicompost on GHG emissions and the impact of adding biochar into the mix.