David Stephen Powlson

Rothamsted Research

Email: david.powlson@rothamsted.ac.uk

Lead author to the SCOPE Rapid Assessment Project on the Benefits of Soil Carbon


David Powlson (born 24th June 1947) has 40 years post-doctoral research in soil science with particular emphasis on carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling in agricultural systems. He has a B.Sc. in Chemical Sciences (University of East Anglia, 1968) and Ph.D. in Soil Science (University of Reading, 1972). He is author or co-author of over 120 papers in peer-reviewed journals, plus numerous conference proceeding, chapters and abstracts. He is a co-editor of 5 journal special publications, one major reference work Encyclopedia of Soils in the Environment (Elsevier, 2005; Editor-in-Chief: Daniel Hillel, the 2012 winner of the World Food Prize) and co-author of 1 book Farming, Fertilizers and the Nitrate Problem (CABI, 1991; with T.M. Addiscott and A.P.Whitmore).The impact of his publications is indicators by an ISI ‘h index’ of 45. He has led research projects funded by various UK bodies including BBSRC, NERC and Defra and has either led or participated in international projects funded by EU, UNEP, FAO, IAEA, DfID, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and others. He has contributed to several IPCC reports and so has a very small share in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded jointly to the IPCC and Al Gore. He recently led a review of soil science research and policy requirements as an input to the 2011 Foresight Report The Future of Food & Farming: Challenges & Choices for Global Sustainability.

His research has mainly focussed on two areas: (a) influence of management practices on soil carbon stocks and concentrations using long-term experiments, isotopic methods and modelling and quantifying impacts in relation to soil functioning and climate change mitigation; (b) factors influencing the efficiency of use of nitrogen fertilizer by crops in the UK and internationally and management practices to increase efficiency of use and limit adverse environmental impacts. International collaborations have included a UNEP GEF project to estimate soil C stocks in contrasting regions (Brazilian Amazon, Indo-Gangetic Plains, Kenya, Jordan) and establish a modelling system to estimate future changes due to land use change. In another project, funded by FAO/IAEA, 15N labelling was used to measure the fate of N from fertilizer and crop residues in a range of tropical and sub-tropical regions in 9 countries in South America, Africa and Asia.

He retired from Rothamsted Research in 2006 where he had been Head of the Soil Science Department for 13 years. In 2007 he was appointed by the Rothamsted Board of Directors to an Emeritus position of Lawes Trust Senior Fellow. He is also a Visiting Professor in Soil Science at the University of Reading, School of Human and Environmental Sciences, and was recently appointed as an Honorary Fellow in the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh. In 2006 he was elected an Honorary member of the British Society of Soil Science for services to soil science research. During his period as President of the Society he was instrumental in establishing the Eurosoil series of conferences.

During the last 6 years he has led collaborative projects in China concerned with strategies to overcome the excessive use of N fertilizer. One project was concerned with increasing the effectiveness of delivery of information to farmers. The other was policy-oriented in which the greenhouse gas emissions associated with N fertilizer in China (manufacture and use) were estimated and the opportunities for reducing emissions quantified for a range of scenarios. A series of Policy Briefs were delivered to senior policy makers in China. Collaborators in China included China Agricultural University, the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Northwest University of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences. He contributed to the establishment of the China-UK Sustainable Agriculture Innovations Network, SAIN, www.sainonline.org .