InformaTec is a 2-year, NERC-funded project that seeks to identify how to manage the increasing wealth of environmental data and information so that it can be transmitted, distributed, stored, archived, analysed and visualised, and in so doing, aims to recognise and develop opportunities for knowledge and technology transfer, both nationally and internationally. As such, InformaTec addresses a major objective of the NERC science strategy, namely, the “exploitation of technological advances to develop improved methods of monitoring environmental change.” InformaTec-Soils is one component of InformaTec; other aspects of the project focus on environmental monitoring, data standards, interoperability, and distributed computing.\ud \ud The specific aim of InformaTec-Soils is to draw together key players having interest in the collection and synthesis of large-scale soil data sets with a view to identifying what needs to be done to improve understanding of soil and environmental change. As part of the InformaTec-Soils initiative, a meeting of 24 experts from across the UK was convened at Defra, in London, on 14 March 2011. Through presentations, roundtable discussions and breakout groups, the meeting explored, current informatics, methodological and cultural challenges, and constraints, to the synthesis of UK and European soils data for understanding soil and environmental change.\ud \ud This report presents a vision for an ecosystems approach to soils and summarizes the conclusions and recommendations of the meeting held in London. As well as identifying opportunities for the soils community generally, the report will be presented to NERC to inform decisions on future funding. The authors of the report extend their gratitude to all who contributed to the meeting and the production of this report.\ud \ud The report identifies the following important research topics for soils:\ud \ud Key areas for research:\ud 1) Framework development.\ud 2) Quantifying the soil resource, stocks, fluxes, transformations and identifying indicators.\ud 3) Valuing the soil resource for its ecosystem services and natural capital.\ud 4) Developing management strategies and decision support tools.\ud \ud Within these 4 key areas for research we identify the following 5 major challenges that the NERC technologies theme should address:\ud \ud Major research challenges:\ud 1. Ecosystem approach to national soil monitoring; how we measure and model at a range of scales.\ud 2. Exploit new technologies for airborne, ground based sensor networks, and molecular biology techniques to link from structure through to function and on to service.\ud 3. Develop data accessibility (via cloud), and integration by exploiting new data IT tools (eg Open MI) to support projects building exemplar or baseline data/models eg EVOp project (Community).\ud 4. Decision support tools, simple, practical tools for people trying to utilize and visualise data for a range of common purposes (e.g. planning).\ud 5. Pathways to ‘valuation’. How do you link users perceptions of value to the parameters created by the data and models? (e.g developing techniques from social–science research in terms of perceptions and value judgements).\ud \ud Some of the challenges and opportunities to arise from the meeting with regard to ‘Data Handling’ and ‘Measurement Methods and Technologies’ are identified in two appendices to the report
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