Dr. Eleonora Bonifacio is Professor of Pedology at the University of Turin, in Italy. Her main research interests are related to the processes of soil development, shaping natural soil fertility and affecting soil agricultural use. She focuses on soil physical properties (e.g. soil structure development, soil porosity etc..) and on the evaluation of soil erosion. She has research collaborations in many European countries as well as in Japan, Australia, Russia and America.
In the upcoming ISC Distinguished Lecture Series webinar, titled ‘Linking Mechanisms to Soil Functions to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,’ she will delve into little-known functions and properties of soil. She will notably detail carbon storage mechanisms, explain the invasiveness of alien tree species, and talk about plants’ survival properties.
💻 Join us online on 19 September at 16:00 CEST by registering here.
What initially sparked your interest in paedology and what led you to specialize in this field?
I was truly captivated by my university soil science professor, Enza Arduino. A very clever woman, who was able to introduce me to the complexity of the topic, and to the interlinks between the different aspects of soil science. Only through appropriate reasoning were students able to answer to her questions. This is now standard in university teaching but was not so prevalent in the early 1980s. I was struck to discover that everything in soil science seemed incredibly logical.
Another fascinating aspects of studying soils that drew me to the field is that you need to know a little of several disciplines, as soils comprise minerals, organic compounds, living organisms – making it a very interesting transdisciplinary field of study.
How do you see the field of paedology evolving in the coming years? Are there pressing challenges or questions in the field that researchers should focus on in the coming years?
I think that current research in pedology, and in other sciences, should reexamine fundamental concepts. This effort would avoid the replication of experiments. For instance, the phenomenon of soil pH decreasing along a climatic gradient is rooted in geochemistry theory and has been empirically demonstrated for many years. Still, as editor of a scientific journal, I often come across research hypotheses like “we hypothesize that soil pH would be higher in drier areas compared to wetter ones,” followed by attempts to prove this hypothesis. Well, I’d be much more curious to read papers demonstrating the opposite scenario and investigating the reasons behind the deviation from the trend.
New techniques allow extensive data acquisition and generate interesting new research, alongside new concepts. However, on a global scale, the vast variability of soils makes it impractical to assess their responses to climate change or other global stressors in every location. This is why knowledge mining has to be promoted. I’m surprised by the fact that a substantial amount of research conducted in the 1980s and 1990s is not always readily accessible, due to the lack of digital transfer. This often leads to unintentional research duplication.
What motivated you to choose these specific topics for discussion in this lecture for the International Year of Basic Science for Sustainable Development?
Among the numerous functions of soil, I’ve chosen to focus on three.
The first one is carbon sequestration. A lot of research has been done in the last 20 years on the mechanism of organic matter stabilization in soils, but it appears that we failed in disseminating these findings to other scientific communities and stakeholders, as many old concepts are still in vogue.
The second function I’d like to highlight is the provision of nutrients for plant growth. With the depletion of fertilizer reserves looming, the need for an optimized fertilization is imperative. While crop management strategies incorporate sustainability principles, our understanding of how crops will respond to global changes in terms of nutrient requirements remains limited and underutilized. The same gap holds for semi-natural environments, such as forests or grasslands – how will they react to the increased CO2 concentration? Some nutrients might become limiting factors but this is dependent on soil properties.
The last one is biodiversity. I am not a soil biologist, but one question every soil scientist should ask themselves is whether gains are linked to soil variability. Is there a theoretical limit to increasing soil biodiversity and carbon sequestration, or can we continuously enhance these functions?
How does pedology intersect with other scientific disciplines?
If we think of soil as of the interface between the biotic and abiotic compartments of the earth. It’s clear that interactions with geologists, biologists and plant physiologists are obvious. In addition, the contribution from more applied sciences (crop and forest sciences) are needed if we really want to connect the results of fascinating scientific problems to real world.
I hope that colleagues from other disciplines will be curious about soil properties and functioning. It would truly delight me if this webinar sparks new interdisciplinary interactions.
Subscribe to our newsletters
The information, opinions and recommendations presented in this article are those of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the values and beliefs of the International Science Council.
Image by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash.
Cultivating a proactive approach to crises: first meeting of the UNEP/ISC foresight expert panel
"The making of the Golden Record of our century": daring to pursue mission-oriented science
To achieve sustainable development, the world needs to mobilize around a big science approach once more
Proclamation of the International Decade of Sciences for Sustainable Development by the United Nations General Assembly
Sustainability in the Digital Age
Global science needs a new approach to tackle climate change and complex sustainability question
Ambitious global $1 billion per year ‘mission science’ model needed to win on sustainable development in time, warn experts
Charting a New Course: Science Day to Pioneer Evidence-Based Strategies for SDG Acceleration at the HLPF 2023
A Model for Implementing Mission Science for Sustainability: proposed by the Technical Advisory Group to the Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability
Frontiers Planet Prize, second edition: celebrating the world’s most innovative sustainability scientists
Protecting the ocean: 5 essential reads on invasive species, overfishing and other threats to sea life
The ISC at the Second Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution
Nurturing a Sustainable Future: Collaboration, Empowerment, Trust, and Resilience in Science at the ISC Mid-term Members Meeting
From Antarctica to Space: updates from Affiliated Bodies on Day 3 of ISC Mid-term meeting
ISC's nomination track ensures transdisciplinary and global representation in UNEP's Scientific Advisory Group for GEO-7 Assessment
Rebalancing Waste Management Governance in Cities with Informal Systems: Engaging Local Stakeholders and Academics through Transdisciplinary Research
Launch of the LIRA 2030 Africa reports highlighting key achievements and lessons learned from advancing transdisciplinary science in Africa
LIRA 2030 Africa: Learning from Practising Transdisciplinary Research for Sustainable Development in African Cities
UN 2023 Water Conference carries new engagements towards realizing SDG6 and future avenues for a decade of action
IPCC report: the world must cut emissions and urgently adapt to the new climate realities
Delivering actionable and science-based water solutions: new ISC policy brief launched ahead of the 2023 UN Water Conference
ISC-BBC StoryWorks partnership ends on a high note, delivering some of the highest engagement for the BBC
Towards a New Urban Health Science
Call to engage in Voluntary National Reviews
Distinguished lecture series - From fire to space - Basic sciences lead and shape our paths toward sustainable development
In wake of ‘natural’ disasters, not reducing biodiversity loss is a big missed opportunity
Contribute a blog or news item to the ISC
International Science Council deplores the exclusion of women from university education in Afghanistan and urges the Afghan authorities to reverse their decision
The ISC and UNEP to cooperate on advancing the use of science in environmental policy and decision-making
Science in Times of Crisis Episode 3 - The Fallout of Conflict: The Arctic and Outer Space
There are 8 years left to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but is it enough time?
Special interview series on COP 27- Interview with Nick Perkins about climate change and science communication
Are we in a new era of climate adaptation implementation? The role of regional governments in facilitating local action
In the face of extreme weather events, coordinated global action to address climate change is needed at COP27
Professor Carlos Lopes on why Africa needs to stick to renewables despite the temptation of gas
Call for nominations of experts - IPCC Workshop on the Use of Scenarios in AR6 and Subsequent Assessments
Stories of transformations to sustainability
Happy birthday to the Montreal Protocol – the most successful environmental treaty of all time?
Funding for resilience: Five key objectives to protect vulnerable groups through Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Investing
Cycling towards sustainable development
A letter to our fellow citizens of Earth
The Biggest Carbon Sink of All
Three things to know about how Intellectual Property can contribute to sustainability transitions
Managed retreat from areas threatened by floods can catalyse positive social transformations
The climate crisis is a health crisis
New Technical Advisory Group to support the Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability
Global Forum of Funders
Funding Science for Global Sustainability
World Water Day - March 22
Systemic Risk Briefing Note highlights complexity of interconnected, interdependent, and uncertain challenges
Women Leading on Equitable and Inclusive Solutions to address the Climate Emergency: Webinar
The window for climate action to avoid dangerous systemic risks is narrowing, warns latest IPCC report
Celebrating World Pulses Day 2022
An early career perspective on the science-policy interface in the decade of climate action following COP26
Holiday binge-watching: Science edition
Our most popular stories from 2021
Staying below 1.5°C: what are the chances?
The International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly for 2022
If universities want to hit climate targets, they should use their land for carbon offsetting
Major scientific assessment of the Amazon region issues urgent call to end deforestation and avert tipping points
Climate change projections for Pakistan: the need for sustainable solutions to protect its people and biodiversity
Four considerations for accelerating progress on climate change at the science-policy interface
Ten New Insights in Climate Science 2021 report highlights critical research and policy implications for addressing the climate crisis
Ahead of COP26, Ekanem I. Braide shares her perspective on the priorities for action and the role of science
Climate risk assessment gaps: seamless integration of weather and climate information for community resilience
Increasing the participation of women in the climate change debate, including as leaders, is essential for a carbon-zero future
Deepening interactions between science and policy on the way to COP26: What role for science publishers?
Science as a Global Public Good
Predicting the climate of the next decade
Strengthening the resilience of our global food system while advancing its transformation
Call for emergency action to limit global temperature increases, restore biodiversity, and protect health
Coastal communities in the Arctic rely on structural measures to adapt to climate change, but should they?
Solar Geoengineering at a Standstill?
Deep and sustained emissions reductions required to head off rapid climate change affecting all regions of the world
The carbon skyscraper
Navigating towards sustainability: how research networks can make a difference using the ‘network compass’
Tell me a story – why climate change communication needs to embrace our childlike curiosity
We're in the midst of a global wake-up call
Critical social science perspectives on transformations to sustainability – emerging framings and approaches
COP26 Climate Action Champion Nigel Topping on creating an 'ambition loop' for bolder pathways to change
Strengthening the links between science and society for action on climate change in France
Target high-carbon emitters to accelerate green transition, say leading experts on behavioural change
Working scientist podcast: Democratizing knowledge and access to tools for sustainable development
Working together: Future Earth and WCRP announce partnership to jointly address major societal challenges
What are the climate breakthroughs in 2020?
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission launches the Global Ocean Science Report 2020
The “How” of transformation
Taking stock of progress on global change: What to expect from the UNEP Global Assessments Synthesis Report
Kyoto Landslide Commitment launched to increase understanding on how to reduce landslide risk
ISC and Sustainability in the Digital Age partner to drive transformative system changes for an equitable world
Global Young Academy promote sustainable solutions to problems within global health and higher education
Transformation to Sustainability: Integrating Indigenous and Western knowledge systems for water management and governance
Call for nominations: ISC Awards Programme
Coalition for Environmental Sustainability in support of the UN’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation
SDG interactions as a national policy driver
Tackling Climate Change with COVID-19 Urgency - by ISC Patron, Mary Robinson and ISC President, Daya Reddy
COP25: Time for action
Call for nominations of experts to serve on the Editorial Board of the IPCC Emission Factor Database
Why we need a UN charter
Our Common Digital Future
Funding Science for Sustainability
The triumphs and trials of transdisciplinary research: reflections on the un-disciplining of disciplines
The political challenge of achieving transformations to 1.5ºC – the role of social justice
COP24 side event on The CitiesIPCC Research and Action Agenda for effective urban responses to climate change
How to bring clean energy to informal settlements: Co-designing sustainable energy solutions in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa
Transforming southern African cities in a changing climate – Q and A with Alice McClure from the University of Cape Town
Future of Science: Voices from our partners
Future of Science: Voices from our partners
Future of science: Voices from our partners
Future of science: Voices from our partners
SDG Interactions, gender, science-policy interface: ICSU at the High Level Political Forum
First UN Oceans conference highlights urgency to address marine pollution, warming and over-fishing
International Council for Science calls on United States to support international efforts to combat dangerous climate change
New report from scientific experts provides a unique guide to translate Sustainable Development Goals into reality
ICSU at the U.N. Ocean Conference
Sustainable Development Goals
World Climate Research Programme (WCRP)
Call for pre-proposals: Advancing the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 11 on cities in Africa
Call for Nominations for the Scientific Committee for the Urban Health and Wellbeing programme
ICSU Unions receive award to launch multi-year initiatives in science outreach and education
GSDR report launches in France – High level event and workshop co-organized by ICSU, UNDESA, IDDRI and IRD
Global Sustainable Development Goals need clearer, more measurable targets, according to new report from science experts
2015 is the International Year of Light
Landmark scientifc data conference ends with strong support of data sharing for sustainability
Future Earth 2025 Vision
Future Earth Strategic Research Agenda 2014
Nature publishes paper on SDGs by team of authors from ICSU, IGBP and other organisations
Paper published on ICSU's programme on Health and Wellbeing in the Changing Urban Environment
Polar year comes to a close
Science Plan on Sustainable Energy – ICSU Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean
ICSU launches new programme to understand the human impact on Earth’s life-support systems
International Council for Science (ICSU) launches major research programme on natural disasters
IPY Polar Day Focusing on People
IPY Polar Land and Life Day
IPY Day Focusing on Changing Earth
IPY Day Focusing on Ice Sheets
IPY presents Sea Ice Day
ICSU and Climate Science (2006)
ICSU and Sustainable Development (2006)
At Pivotal Event in China, the International Council for Science Releases New Strategy to Strengthen International Science for the Benefit of Society
ICSU Pursues New Initiative that Challenges Science to Do More to Prevent Natural Disasters
ICSU Scientific meetings probe global issues