Research profile

Department of Natural Environment Biogeochemistry

Research profile

One of the major problems related to climatic changes is greenhouse gas emission. These gases include first of all carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4). Circulation of all these gases in the soil environment (including generation, absorption and emission to the atmosphere) are the subject of research conducted in our Department. The both laboratory and field investigations are carried out.


Anaerobic processes that occur in wastes can be a highly efficient methane (biogas) source and an alternative energy source. Investigations of potential methane (biogas) productivity as well as determination and selection of optimal conditions for production of this gas are one of the tasks undertaken by our Department.


Water-air relations and gas exchange in the soil are determinants of processes occurring in the soil, including plant growth and development (and consequently, crop yield). Studies conducted in our Department facilitate development of methods of soil oxygenation measurement and monitoring. It should be stressed that a high concentration of oxygen in the soil air does not automatically guarantee availability of oxygen for plants, since oxygen uptake by the root system is only possible through soil solution. Determination of optimum oxygenation conditions is one of our tasks.


The consequence of availability or absence of oxygen in the soil are the so-called aerobic (in the presence of oxygen) or anaerobic (in the absence of oxygen) processes. They exert an effect on the nitrogen and carbon cycles in the soil (and possible emissions and/or absorption of gases, including greenhouse gases) and on the soil microbial and enzymatic activity. Investigation of these processes is another research activity in our Department.


Post-fermentation sludge management and use of soil capacity for wastewater treatment is a key issue in environmental protection. On the one hand, it offers great possibilities, but on the other hand, it entails some risk. The study on transformations induced by sludge sediments and wastewater in the soil is a task in our Department.


Multiple factors may exert an adverse effect on plant growth and development, and consequently, biomass production/yield. These factors include anoxia, nutrient deficiency, decreased or elevated temperature, or soil pollution e.g. with heavy metals. In some unfavourable conditions, the plant activates its defence mechanisms, which mitigate the impact of these conditions. Identification of markers that can be used for monitoring plant response to stress, investigation of processes induced by stress, and development of methods of preventing the stress effects are the tasks undertaken in our Department.


Solubilisation processes based on the use of surface-active agents (the so-called surfactants) and microemulsions (of nanometre magnitude) which are ubiquitous in nature and used in both agriculture (e.g. plant protection products) and industry e.g. in food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries. One of the tasks of our Department is analyzing the substances, their formation processes, and conditions for their stability and possible transformation processes.


In terms of soil properties, soil colloids suspended in “soil water” seem to be the most important granulometric fraction. The fraction contains mineral, organic, and mineral-organic particles. In our Department, we study the surface condition and its effect on colloid properties, and hence, on soil properties. This is accomplished by measurements of the size distributions and electrokinetic potential of various colloid systems.


A vast majority of the hitherto conducted studies of microorganisms have been based on biochemical and genetic methods. Recently, physical methods have been increasingly used for description of properties of entire microorganisms and their “components”. Highly precise measurements of the bacterial size distribution (with the PCS – Photon Correlation Spectroscopy method) and the electrokinetic potential (with the LDV – Laser Doppler Velocimetry method) are excellent tools for characterization of the microbial surface providing microbiologists (with whom we cooperate) with new, previously inaccessible data that facilitate interpretation of phenomena occurring  in the bacterium/medium,  bacterium/soil minerals, bacterium/soil solution, bacteria/root systems, etc.


Soil erosion is one of the major problems of world and Polish agriculture. The effects of erosion are most evident in regions covered by loess (e.g. picturesque gorges and ravines). The first stage of water erosion is the so-called splash erosion (detachment and movement of soil particles by raindrops that hit the surface). One of the goals of our Department is investigation of the erosion process, energy balance, and factors responsible for the process.


The research interests of our Department include agrometrological issues. An example of this activity is development of the method of determination of the shape of particles of the sand sediment fraction by optical microscopy. Up to date, in sedimentology, geomorphology, geology and, partly, in pedology, particle size has been primarily determined based on geometric methods (Cailleux, Powers or Krumbein). Their major shortcoming is their subjectivity (an arbitrary decision of the investigator) and substantial time consumption. Development of methodology for determination of particle size based on the analysis of two-dimensional images fulfils the needs of the aforementioned branches of science.


Another example of issues related to agrometrological issues is development and improvement for measurements of particle size distribution (PSD), including soil PSD with the laser diffraction method. Workshops and training for researchers and practitioners provided by the Department confirm our achievements in this field of science.