Areas of expertise

  • Soil
  • Sustainable Land Systems


Dan is a Lecturer in Soil Formation at Cranfield University. He leads both fundamental and applied research on soil formation and the parent materials from which soil is formed. His work focuses on the interactions between parent materials and soils, how soil parent materials support soil ecosystem services, and the natural and anthropogenic threats to the parent material zone. He also studies how soil formation can be accelerated, such as the manufacturing of new soils for urban green infrastructure.

Dan's passion for soils research germinated in 2012 when he studied mobile debris lobes in Alaska during a Royal Geographical Society Scholarship. Following his return, he obtained a first-class degree in Physical Geography at the Royal Holloway, with prize-winning research on root architecture and soil erodibility. During his PhD at Lancaster University, he conducted the first isotopic measurements of UK arable soil formation, and the first globally-relevant estimates of soil lifespans.

Dan is the Deputy Early Career Scientist representative for the European Geoscience Union, representing Early Career Scientists from more than 20 geoscience disciplines across the Union. Previously, he was former ECS Representative for the Union's Soil System Science division and the National ECS Officer for the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS). In 2019, he co-hosted HRH The Duke of Gloucester at the BSSS ECR conference, and later was awarded the Society's inaugural 'Outstanding Contribution to Soil Science' prize. He's an Associate Editor for the European Journal of Soil Science and is a member of multiple EU Soil Observatory working groups including soil erosion, soil pollution, and organic carbon.

Dan's also passionate about science communication. He was the inaugural speaker at the first Royal Holloway TEDx conference and has given public lectures at the Royal Geographical Society, the UK Climate Emergency network, and the Science Futures stage at Glastonbury Festival. His research has featured across international media outlets including The Conversation, Our World in Data, the US Agribusiness Report, BBC Radio 4's Farming Today, Sky News, and Farmer's Weekly. He has been an invited contributor in public-facing news and feature articles (e.g. BBC Future Planet), as well as industry magazines (e.g. ProLandscaper).

Embedded at the heart of his research are key values such as EDI, responsible research, and research integrity. Previously, he has co-chaired a Short Course on Promoting Diversity in Geosciences, inviting Asmeret Berhe (Director of Science, U.S. Department of Energy) to highlight how early career scientists can improve diversity. He is also a signatory of the 'Our Pledge as Soil Scientists' to cultivate diverse and equal soil science communities, remove barriers, and promote equity of access to research.

Research opportunities

Dan leads both fundamental and applied research focusing on soil formation, and the parent materials from which soil is formed. The basis of this work takes place at the interface between soil and weathered bedrock called saprolite. This zone represents a 'final frontier' at the bottom of many soil profiles, and one which is likely to become more critical as soils around the world continue to erode to bedrock. However, Dan also studies soil formation across a wide variety of environmental domains including natural 'pristine' ecosystems, agricultural landscapes, and urban spaces.

Dan's research programme comprises three core components:

Interactions between parent materials and soils: How do the biological, chemical, and physical properties of parent materials differ from those of soil? What processes take place across the boundary between soils and underlying parent materials? To what extent can parent materials support the delivery of soil ecosystem services?

Threats to soil parent materials: To what extent is the stock, health, and functioning of soil parent material at threat from local perturbations and global grand challenges? How resilient are soil parent materials to these perturbations? How can we protect soil parent materials to safeguard tomorrow's soils?

Bioengineering soil parent materials to accelerate soil formation: Can we identify smart, efficient, and next-generation techniques to bioengineer soil parent materials to enhance rates of soil formation? Can plants be used to accelerate soil formation and thicken soil profiles? How can we form a functioning soil 'from scratch' in urban spaces?

Current activities

Enhancing the Resilience of Manufactured Soils for Urban Green Infrastructure | January 2023 to April 2023 | P.I.

A NERC Cross-disciplinary Discovery Science grant which investigated the extent to which principles of resilience are currently embedded in the UK's standard for manufactured soils.

Contaminants in saprolite: an overlooked hotspot of environmental concern | October 2022 to March 2026 | P.I.

A NERC DTP studentship which will investigate the storage of emerging contaminants (e.g., microplastics, pharmaceuticals) in the saprolite zone under soil profiles, and their remobilization back into the soil profile during soil formation processes.

Petrogenic carbon at the soil-bedrock interface | March 2022 to March 2024 | P.I.

A Royal Society International Exchange grant with ETH Zurich investigating the release of petrogenic (rock-derived) carbon from bedrock to soils during soil formation processes. This project will deliver preliminary findings on the concentrations of rock-derived carbon entering the soil system, and the priming potential of this carbon at the soil-bedrock interface. Work will take place on soils developing in glacial forelands across the Swiss Alps, and agroecosystems over carbon-rich rocks (e.g., shales) in the UK.

The role of saprolite in stabilizing soil organic carbon in critically shallow soils | October 2020 to September 2023 | P.I.

An investigation into the potential of weathered bedrock underlying rapidly eroding shallow soils to store and stabilize organic carbon. In particular, this project will explore (i) the factors that affect carbon storage and stabilization mechanisms at the soil-saprolite interface, (ii) the resilience of these mechanisms to perturbation, and (iii) solutions to boost ecosystem service delivery on bare saprolite.

Modelling, optimizing, and identifying novel sites for urban food production | January to September 2022 | P.I.

A STFC Food Network funded project that aims to develop a decision-making platform to identify the most effective vacant urban spaces for sustainable, resilient, nutritious food growing. As part of this research, soils in vacant urban spaces within Newcastle, UK, will be studied to analyze their suitability for crop growth.

Saprolite erosion and the fate of heavy metals: pioneering UAV-SfM as a community mapping tool | December 2020 to July 2021 | P.I.

A GCRF project, in collaboration with Agronomic Institute of Campinas, Brazil, and the National Institute for Space Research, that aimed to test the use of UAV-SfM to detect, map, and measure saprolite erosion in order to estimate the diffuse pollution of heavy metals.


Articles In Journals

Conference Papers