PhD scholarships available from Environmental Biogeochemistry Research Laboratory, Griffith University, Australia

Three full PhD scholarships ($28k – $30k per annum) are available through the Environmental Biogeochemistry Research Laboratory (Griffith University) in the areas of soil ecosystem function and health, fire ecology and soil carbon storage and soil moisture retention materials and drought mitigation. These PhD projects will be based on Nathan Campus, Griffith University and scholarships will be provided through collaborative projects with Australian Research Council, Soil CRC and Griffith University. The scholarships are open to both Australian and overseas students (with a minimum overall IELTS score of 6.5 and a minimum score for individual category of 6.0). It is also expected that the candidates have a first class honours degree (or H1 equivalent result e.g., MSc, MPhil) in the areas of Soil Science. Environmental Science, Material Science, Microbiology or Applied Chemistry, preferably with refereed scientific publications. The commencement date can vary from 1 Feb 2021-1 Jun 2021. For further enquiries, please contact Prof Chengrong Chen, School of Environment and Science, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Nathan Qld 4111. Email: Phone: +61-7-37357494.

1. Fire ecology – How does fire alter the long-term soil carbon storage and response to global warming? (funded by Australian Research Council Discovery Project & Griffith University). Fire has modified over ~40% of the Earth’s land surface and affects ca. 4-10% of Australian land area annually. Globally, wildfire frequency is expected to increase under a warming climate. Fire can have significant impact on soil carbon (C) stock, nature and dynamics, but the feedback of fire-driven soil carbon dynamics to climate/ global warming is largely unknown.This project aims to reveal the impacts of long-term fires on soil carbon stocks and global response patterns of carbon pools to warming across different biomes and associated chemical and biological mechanisms.

2. Enhancing soil resilience to alkaline sodicity and acidity constraints to improve soil productivity (funded by Soil CRC). This project will address the critical agricultural industry issues in assessing soil biological resilience to the key soil chemical constraints (e.g., alkaline sodicity and acidity), which has not been yet adequately defined in the current soil health assessment, for improving soil productivity. This project will develop a novel but practical framework for assessing the functional resilience of soil biological system against these constraints.  This project will work closely with the CRC Soils industry partners and the assessment protocols produced in this project would have broader application across Australian grower group networks and agricultural industries. 

3. Developing clay- and organic-based materials for soil moisture retention to mitigate the drought (funded Soil CRC & Griffith University)

Drought has been a feature of the Australian climate throughout its recorded history. Periodic drought is likely to produce rapid, profound and long‐lasting effects on agroecosystems. Improving soil moisture (particularly rhizosphere) retention and increasing seed germination rate are critical measures for Australian farmers to maintain agricultural production under dry conditions. This PhD Project aims to design and synthesise novel, high moisture-retaining organic- and clay-based materials through specific modification to mitigate drought condition and improve soil productivity.

Fire alters soil nutrients

The biogeochemical signature of forest fire!

Catchment to Coast

By Orpheus Butler

Fire is a recurring phenomenon in many Australian ecosystems, and the importance of understanding the ecological impacts of burning will increase with the changing climate.

pexels-photo-279979Our new research has found that fire leaves a clear biogeochemical signature on the soil—plant system. It creates soils with high phosphorus (P) and low carbon (C) and nitrogen (N). Knowing how fire changes soil nutrients is important for the management and conservation of forest ecosystems, because nutrients will affect the types of ecosystems that grow in a place.

Recently it is becoming clear that fire can decouple the ecological cycles of C, N and P. In particular, the low temperatures at which soil C and N turn into gas (and are thus lost to the atmosphere) shift the balance of soil C, N and P towards P (i.e. lower C:P and N:P ratios). These shifts appear to be particularly strong in…

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More awards for our members!

Soil Science Australia has awarded the Griffith EBRL’s Dr Maryam Esfandbod with the 2016 Postgraduate Award for Excellence in Soil Science! Soil Science Australia’s QLD Branch noted that the scope, innovation, and depth of research addressed by Dr Esfandbod’s thesis on ‘Roles of biochar in the rehabilitation of degraded lands’ placed her work at a higher level than the other candidates. Congratulations Maryam!

Second annual 3441ENV field trip!

For the second time in two years a group of 3rd year undergraduates from Griffith University were taken on a field trip to various areas of the Locker Valley region as part of Professor Chen’s ‘Land Degradation and Catchment Management’ course. This field trip provides students with practical experience in degraded land assessment and environmental science to ensure a thorough understanding of their coursework (and to have some fun outdoors!).

The sites we visited provided examples of degraded, rehabilitated, or well-managed agricultural soils and landscapes. Starting at Griffith bright and early, we made our way to the New Oakleigh Coal Mine site, then on to Gatton Horticulture Research Station, the University of Queensland ‘Darbalara’ salinity site, and the Murphy’s Creek Road Erosion Site. Students were divided into several groups, with each supervised by one of our soil experts: Professor Chen, Dr Mehran Rezaei Rashti, Mr Bernie Powell, Mr Peter Zund, Mr Mark Crawford, Mr Orpheus Butler, and Ms Maryam Esfandbod.


Testing soil properties (electrical conductivity and dispersivity) at a highly eroded site (Murphy’s Creek Road).

The day ranged from specific talks by site experts at each site to individual practical work, discussion and group practical work. We finished the day with a simple competition that tested what the students learned during the trip. Though all the students worked very hard, six students were chosen as the winners: Jeffrey Ellis, Sienna Harris, Nikita Zatyko, Paul  Brien, Nicolas Brenes Horvilleur, and Kiana Zeppa. In support of the Soil Science Australia Queensland Branch, and through the generosity of Mr Dennis Baker, Director of Environmental Soil Solutions Australia Pty. Ltd., we awarded these six students with an annual membership to Soil Science Australia (SSA). This gives students the opportunity to network with soil science society members in research, government and industry, and expand their soil science skills and knowledge to improve their future employment prospects. These awards also raise awareness of the society among students and help to build a presence for Griffith University within the society.


Field trip soil experts and our hosts at Murphy’s Creek Road, Gerald and Charlie, and our six student prize recipients (front row, from left:  Jeffrey Ellis, Sienna Harris, Nikita Zatyko, Nicolas Brenes Horvilleur and Kiana Zepp).

The student’s responses to the field trip was extremely positive, with students generally very happy and satisfied with the field sites, demonstrations and educational value of the trip. Professor Chen (field trip leader) and Maryam Esfandbod (field trip manager) and the rest of the Griffith EBRL would like to acknowledge the help and support of the following people, without whom the field trip would not have been such a great success: Mark Crawford (President, SSA), Bernie Powell, Dr Stephen Harper (Gatton Research Station), Dr Mehran Rezaei Rashti, Peter Zund, Mark Bauer (Darbalara salinity site), Brad O’Reilly (New Hope Mining Group), Orpheus Butler, Gerald Handley (Murphy’s Creek Road site owner), Scott Byrnes, Kyle Barton, Dennis Baker, Kristie Williams, Dr John Bennett and the Queensland branch of SSA.

Costa at Corinda!

Costa at Corinda was a field day held at Corinda State High School’s urban farm on the 10th of September 2016, with Costa Geogradis, host of ABC’s Gardening Australia programme running a workshop called ‘Working the Dirt’ to get high school student’s interested in soil, the environment, food production and inspired to get into the garden. This event was supported supported by Soil Science Australia.

As well as students and community in attendance, there were local farmers, people from industry, Soil Science Australia (including the SSA-QLD president and the SSA Federal Secretary!). From Griffith and the EBRL there were Professor Chen, Dr Mehran Rezaei Rashti and Maryam Esfandbod, as well as several 3rd year students from the popular course ‘Land Degradation and Catchment Management’. Last but definitely not least, Professor Robert Sand, Pro Vice Chancellor of Griffith Sciences, made a significant contribution to this event by presenting prizes and certificates to Corinda State High students and event organizers.  For more details of the day click here.


Costa talking soil with EBRL members and Griffith 3rd year students.

Beetles in the news!

One of our PhD students, Orpheus Butler, has had his research highlighted on several science news websites in the article ‘Burning desire comes down to beetles‘.

This article was written after Orpheus received a scholarship from the South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium to support his research into the effects of prescribed burning on forest floor invertebrate communities. Orpheus will be speaking about his research at the Bushfire 2016 conference, which will be hosted by the University of Queensland (28th-30th September 2016).

Awards for our members!

In recent months three members of the Griffith EBRL have received awards in recognition of their great achievements and future research potential. Congratulations to Mehran, Ben and Orpheus!

Dr Mehran Rezaei Rashti received the Soil Science Australia (Qld Branch) award for best conferred doctoral thesis of 2015 for his thesis ‘Nitrous oxide emissions from vegetable cropping systems’ and is now in the running for the same award on a national level!

Mehran and Wayne Hall

Mehran receiving his award from Dr Wayne Hall.

Mr Ben Hall was also awarded by Soil Science Australia (Qld Branch) as Griffith University’s soil science undergraduate student of the year for his high marks in Professor Chen’s Land Degradation and Catchment Management course and for his ongoing interest in soils and nutrient cycling.

Ben and Wayne Hall

Ben receiving his award from Dr Wayne Hall.


From left: Dr Wayne Hall (Executive Director, Agri-Science Qld), Dr Mehran Rezaei Rashti (Post-doctoral researcher, Griffith University), Mr Ben Hall (Hons student, Griffith University), Dr John McLean Bennett (President, Soil Science Australia Qld Branch, CPSS), Professor Chengrong Chen (Griffith University).

For more details on the awards and the Soil Science Australia awards night, see the Soil Science Australia (Qld Branch) May 2016 newsletter.

Mr Orpheus Butler has been awarded a student scholarship from the South-East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium (SEQFBC) to assist in funding his research into the effects of fire on invertebrates and biogeochemical cycling in forest ecosystems. As part of this award, Orpheus will be speaking about his research at the Bushfire 2016 conference at University of Queensland (28th-30th September, 2016). See here for more information on the SEQFBC student scholarships.

Orpheus at Peachester

Orpheus collecting invertebrates at the Peachester State Forest prescribed burning experimental site.

Griffith EBRL & Soil Science Australia celebrate World Soil Day 2015

Picture2Griffith University and Professor Chen’s EBRL, in partnership with Soil Science Australia’s Queensland branch, hosted an International World Soil Day celebration at Griffith’s Nathan campus on December 4th, 2015, which was also the International Year of Soils!


Soil scientists and friends of soil from Brisbane and surrounds came to celebrate soil and soil science and their importance to biodiversity, humanity and climate change mitigation. We celebrated with food, drinks and short talks from three distinguished soil scientists, Mr Bernie Powell (EBRL Adjunct, Chair of Australian Soils Classification Working Group), Dr Paul Lawrence (Director, Landscape Sciences, DSITI) and Professor Calvin Rose (Griffith Emeritus Professor, School of Environment).

Thanks so much to our speakers and to everyone who attended and made the event a great success – bring on World Soil Day 2016!

3:00-3:30 pm: Kicking things off with some food and drinks!

3:30-3:45 pm: Opening the event by Prof. Sushila Chang, Dean of Academic in Griffith Sciences.

3:45-3:55 pm: EBRL Leader and Griffith Soil Science Convener, Prof. Chengrong Chen, welcoming attendees and introducing the first two speakers.

3:55-4:25 pm: the first presentation, “Queensland soil science – Ancient History” and discussion by former Queensland Government soil scientist, Mr Bernie Powell.

4:25-4:45 pm: the second presentation, “Contemporary History and Trends in Queensland soil science” and discussion by Dr Paul Lawrence, Director of Landscape Sciences, Department of Science, Information Technology & Innovation (DSITI).

4:55-5:05 pm: Head of Griffith School of Environment, Prof. Christopher Frid, introducing the third speaker of the day, Prof. Calvin Rose.

5:05-5:20 pm: The third and final presentation by Emeritus Professor, Griffith School of Environment, Foundation Professor and Dean of the School of Australian Environmental Studies in 1973, Prof. Calvin Rose. Calvin shared some of his most interesting experiences during his long career as a soil scientist.

5:20-5:30 pm: Bernie Powell ending the formalities nicely with a soil science quiz with two Soil Science Australia hats up for grabs!

5:30-6:30 pm: Finishing off the day with some more food (including a World Soils Day chocolate cake), drinks, conversation and celebration.

3441ENV Field Trip Success!

Griffith undergraduates and staff had a great time on the inaugural student field trip to Lockyer Valley on the 19th of September 2015, as part of Professor Chen’s 3441ENV Land Degradation & Catchment Management course. Students had a first hand look at some key land and catchment degradation processes including erosion, salinity and landslips, and learned about the management of some of Australia’s most fertile vegetable cropping soils.

Undergraduate students Melissa Round, Sarah Leitch and Ilie Vatca were awarded with Australian Society of Soil Science student membership bursaries for their high level of engagement on the day. Congratulations!

A special thanks to Bernie Powell, Peter Zund, Stephen Harper, Gillian Kopittke, Clinton McGrath, Mark Bauer, Gerald Handley, Maryam Esfandbod, Orpheus Butler, Scott Byrnes, Kyle Barton and our friends in the Australian Society of Soil Science for making this trip such an engaging and educational experience!

DSC00265The saline catchment at Marburg affects infrastructure as well as biological systems!

IMG_4209Pausing for a quick photo at Marburg.

IMG_4216Students prepare to take measurements of pH and EC of soil and water samples at the Darbalara dryland salinity farm.

IMG_4215The highly saline waters at the Darbalara saline farm.

IMG_4251Bernie, Chen and Clinton discuss soil formation processes and vegetable cropping at the Gatton Horticultural Research Station.

IMG_4249Sometimes researchers just can’t compromise!

IMG_4218The expert panel (from right: Peter Zund, Bernie Powel, Maryam Esfandbod, Clinton McGrath and Professor Chen).

IMG_4276Some of the gang in front of the landslide at Upper Tenthill.

IMG_4348Peter discusses soil erosion processes at a highly eroded farm on Murphys Creek Road, Lockyer.

IMG_4362Maryam’s team poses for a quick photo while testing soil dispersion at Murphys Creek Road.

IMG_4392Melissa, Sarah and Ilie with their Soil Science Australia membership bursaries.

IMG_4404The whole crew rests at the end of a big day.