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Sustainable Subsoil Management

The overall Soil3 project aims at evaluating how and to which degree the subsoil can be managed to secure or even increase plant yields by improving the overall nutrient and water use efficiency for field crops. The central hypothesis is that nutrient and water uptake from the subsoil can be boosted if favorable conditions like low physical resistance for root channels, hot spots of nutrient supply, or access to stored subsoil water, trigger plants to invest into roots which explore the subsoil. The project consortium aims at optimizing the utilization of the soil volume (acronym Soil3) for plant growth by

  • a) improving subsoil properties in central field studies through the combined growth of deep-rooting pre-crops and technical subsoil heterogenization via rotary cutters and economic organic matter injection, as well as
  • b) an inventory and metadata analyses of subsoil nutrient access using sites of long-term agricultural research stations and of practice trials of the current German Soil Inventory Agriculture.

The project consortium joins 10 research groups from 6 German research institutions (Bonn University, TU München, FZ Jülich, FU Berlin, Thünen Institute, Ecologic).

Prof. Wulf Amelung (Bonn University)
Prof. Ingrid Kögel-Knabner (Technical University München)


The Jülich partner focuses on detecting water dynamics and selected nutrient uptake from subsoil.
For this purpose we will (i) develop a virtual soil-root system in order to simulate the influence of subsoil manipulation on nutrient uptake at the single plant scale and deliver input parameters for the field models, (ii) develop analytical tools to determine the nutrient uptake and use efficiency from the subsoil of important representatives of the alkaline earth metals (Mg, cationic macronutrient), the transition metals (Fe, cationic micronutrient) and metalloids (B, anionic micronutrient) and determine indicators and conditions for nutrient uptake from the subsoil in field trials, and (iii) geophysically monitor the top and subsoil, upscale the local electromagnetic induction (EMI) and ground penetrating radar (GPR) monitoring results to obtain the water distribution at the field scale and perform a model upscaling for selected field trials.
Overall, this is a system- and process-based approach, combined with the development of novel analytical and modeling tools to describe the nutrient and water uptake from the subsoil by plants. It achieves a scale transition from the single root to the soil-plant scale to the management scale. In this way, application based optimization tools can be developed on a process- and model-based foundation.

Principal Investigator Jülich Partner:
Dr. Anne E. Berns
Tel. : +49 2461 61 5656