New Research Solicitation: Towards Sustainability of Soils & Groundwater for Society (SOILS2020)

April 15, 2020

*Research call details and excerpts below are cross-posted from and*

The Belmont Forum is pleased to announce the launch of a Collaborative Research Call (CRA) on the theme: Towards Sustainability of Soils and Groundwater for Society. The goal of this CRA is to produce the necessary knowledge and propose solutions to maintain well-functioning soils and groundwater systems in the Critical Zone, or rehabilitate them where degraded, through:
  1. Better understanding of the long- and shorter-time dynamics and functions of soils and groundwater, impacts from societal (including economics) decisions, integrative management practices, public policies, and how these systems have been transformed; and,
  2. Providing avenues, pathways, and narratives toward transformation of management practices of the whole soil and groundwater systems through a fundamental shift of socio-economic actors’ practices and related-decisions making processes.

Details of the call and the application process are provided via the application portal There are also training modules available for proposers on the Belmont Forum YouTube channel. Before starting to prepare proposals, applicants are advised to contact their funding organisation(s) as listed in the annex documents for the call.

Major dates and deadlines:

  • Call Opened: 09 April 2020
  • Registration Opened: 09 April 2020
  • Registration Closes: 23 July 2020, 13:59 UTC
  • Proposals Open: on submission of registration
  • Proposals Close: 24 August 2020, 13:59 UTC 

Call Documents

Research themes

1. Climate change, carbon cycle, and sustainability of soils and groundwater

Research is needed to document studies of climate change impacts on soil and groundwater resources, especially in a long-time perspective (e.g. thaw of permafrost, landslides, water table drying out/groundwater exhaustion, etc.). These resources are also increasingly affected by more intense and frequent wildfires, both in ecosystems that are “adapted” to fires (e.g. Mediterranean zones, savannahs) and ecosystems that are experiencing "unprecedented" conditions (e.g. Arctic zones).

Given the importance of the carbon cycle in climate regulation, more studies are expected on the role of processes within soils and groundwater that are responsible for export of dissolved and/or particulate organic matter to rivers and oceans. Moreover, the biogeochemical processes have been altered/accelerated by socio-economic changes (land use change, water extraction, etc.). A better understanding is needed on the impacts of management practices and decisions (both local and longer-distance ones; both individual and collective ones) on the balance between carbon erosion and carbon sequestration, including inorganic carbon, in all types of terrestrial ecosystems (cropped land, wetland, forest, grassland, peatland, urban, , etc.). Similarly, studies are expected on the feedbacks of the increase of atmospheric CO2 on soils and groundwater, through the vegetation cover.

2. Highly anthropized ecosystems (including large natural resources extraction)

Among the highly anthropized ecosystems, severely contaminated sites require a special attention in terms of characterization, identification of the anthropogenic causes (mining, industrial activities, urbanization, multiple uses) and of transfers within the Critical Zone, to propose pathways to prevention, alleviation, resilience and/or sustainability. This typically implies interdisciplinary approaches associating not only specialists of soils and groundwater, but of socio-economic sciences, including legal and fiscal sciences. 

Similarly, research is expected on the impacts of urbanization on soils and groundwater. Besides the issues associated to urban sprawl, soil sealing and excavation, studies should address the accelerated pedogenesis processes needed to generate soils from urban rubble and produce cleaner groundwater. Similarly, a research effort should focus on the development of circular economy through the use of urban and agricultural wastes to reduce the use of fertilizers and the risks of groundwater pollution including a particular attention to potential health and environmental issues.

Natural resource extraction often associated to forestry, mining or oil and gas has also a major impact on soils and groundwater. In this respect, it is paramount to promote groundwater safeguard zones. These generate a number of ecosystem services other than groundwater protection (co-benefits), often including soil conservation, which should be accounted when developing management or policy schemes (value those ecosystem services in economic terms; develop scenarios of land use in the Critical Zone that maximizes societal support and economic benefit; design economic instruments of cost sharing (e.g. payment for ecosystem services-PES). More generally, natural resource extraction should be regulated through understanding factors driving (non-)compliance by users (legal, social and economic dimensions); designing and testing participatory approaches that help design rules, which reconcile diverging interests and visions of social justice (participatory engineering); designing and testing experiments that favour economic instruments of compliance (i.e. Payment and Penality-P&P).

3. Reconciling short and long-term process to maintain or improve ecosystem functions

A large domain of expected research concerns thedynamics and functioning of the socio-ecological system of the Critical Zone. This implies a better understanding of interactions between long (e.g. soil formation and natural soil erosion) and accelerated (e.g. soil erosion due to human activities) processes and socio-economic processes that govern the formation and evolution of the Critical Zone to provide options for more sustainable management practices. Research is expected on the processes, especially the long-time processes, that maintain functioning of nutrient cycles (N, P and others), the socio-economic drivers of change in those cycles and the management of these drivers to sustain functioning for the benefit of nature and humanity.

Another emerging issue is the extent and severity of salinization of soils and groundwater due to multi-uses such as tourism, irrigation, coastal saline intrusion, use of brackish, low quality or desalinated water in agriculture, transboundary issues, continental subsidence of the deltas, and the pathways to tackle these issues and to rehabilitate salinized lands. These land degradation issues raise questions associated with the concept of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). In particular, effort should be put on designing more appropriate management practices of soils and groundwater through citizen participative science. This requires to improve users’ perception of Critical Zone resources and management issues, and increase acceptance of changes through investigating incentives that involve citizens in data collection.

In addition, designing new governance models requires new information derived from long time series of observational data combining citizen involvement, and the incorporation of these citizen data into models (quality assurance issues). This approach favours the development of multi-objective economic participative scenarios – and supported models - to optimize conjunctive land use, soil integrity and surface and groundwater to maximize soil conservation as well as water supply reliability and ecosystem protection in a context of increasing variability (options for insurance against flood and drought). This should support maximisation of soil- and groundwater-related services and functions.

For U.S. applicants, please note:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is participatingin Belmont Forum 2020 Collaborative Research Action Towards Sustainability of Soils and Groundwater for Society. Within each selected consortium, funding of the participating researchers is provided by their respective national funding organization in accordance with their standard award terms and conditions. A consortium agreement (including International Property Rights) will need to be developed between the participating researchers should their application be successful and shared with the relevant Partner Organizations.

All projects have to include a budget for participation in 3 project meetings that will be held back-to-back with a scientifically relevant international conference or event.

Available funding: Depending on all conditions of eligibility and peer review being met, the total budget earmarked by NSF for this call will be approximately1.5M€ (according to exchange rates at time of funding and subject to the availability of funds). NSF anticipates that a total of 8-10 research consortia will be supported, pending the availability of funds. The maximum total budget request for all US investigators in a single consortium must not exceed 200,000 USD including indirect costs(roughly 180,000 Euros).

If applicants have any questions about their eligibility, they are advised to contact NSF’s National Contact Point to enquire about their eligibility for the call before developing the proposal.

Read more details from NSF here and in the other country funding annexes below.

Call Documents – Funding Annexes

Annex Country Funding Agency Abbr. Funding Agency Funding Agency Website
Annex Brazil FAPESP São Paulo Research Foundation
Annex Chinese Taipei MOST Ministry of Science and Technology
Annex France AllEnvi French Alliance for Environmental Research
Annex France ANR National Research Agency
Annex Italy CNR-DSSTTA National Research Council of Italy,
Deptment Earth System Sciences and Environmental Technologies
Annex Japan JST Japan Science and Technology Agency
Annex Qatar QNRF Qatar National Research Fund
Annex Russia RFBR Russian Foundation for Basic Research
Annex Saudi Arabia KAUST King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
Annex United States NSF National Science Foundation