Modeling soil – understanding soil

Eva Kröner joined Forschungszentrum Jülich and University of Bonn as Professor for Pedogenetic Modelling in July 2020. In this interview, she highlights the relevance of her research to understand soil and root processes and talks about her expectations of working in the Cluster of Excellence PhenoRob.

PhenoRob’s new Professor for Pedogenetic Modelling: Eva Kröner

PhenoRob: What does pedogenetic modeling mean and how do you plan to shape research in PhenoRob through this professorship?

Eva Kröner: Pedogenesis refers to the process of soil formation and soil evolution. It is controlled by various factors such as climate, parent material, relief, flora, fauna and human influences.  Hydro-biogeochemical processes continuously create and destroy soil structure over time. These processes act on various spatial and temporal scales and create scale dependent heterogeneities of soil colour, structure, texture and bio-geochemistry. A complete description of all relevant processes remains challenging and interdisciplinary research including experimental, theoretical and modelling methods are required to extend our knowledge.

My research background covers physical processes in the rhizosphere which is a thin layer of soil around roots influenced by root secretions which makes it a hotspot for microbial activity and biogeochemical processes in soil. Within Phenorob, our research group plans to experimentally test, develop and implement models on how root exudates alter gas exchanges in soil and how roots actively alter soil mechanical properties that affect soil resistance to root growth and rhizosheath formation. Our research is strongly related to Core Project 3 The soil-root-zone and we also see several links to Core Project 2 Relevance Detection of Crop Features and Core Project 4 Autonomous In-Field Intervention.

PhenoRob: What makes pedogenetic modeling an attractive field of research (also for young scientists)?

Eva Kröner: Pedogenetic modeling is a research area important for food safety, but also for the development of soil fertility and the optimization of soil management, which will become increasingly important in the future. But apart from the direct application of this research, it offers young scientists in particular the opportunity to learn several methods, models and interdisciplinary research approaches that are also applied in several – even some very different – research areas. I think it offers optimal opportunities for young scientists not only to learn about the research application itself but also to get used to this kind of interdisciplinary research.

PhenoRob: How did you get interested in it?

Eva Kröner: I got interested in modelling at a time when I was very naive which I probably still am: I thought if I could model the world this means that I would understand the world. I wanted to learn modelling which I actually started during my studies of Physics. Why soil? Somehow, I always felt attracted to soil and soil plant interactions. Maybe the question caught me how something living like a plant can emerge from something originally, apparently not living like bedrock. In this way I came to pedogenetic modelling.

PhenoRob: PhenoRob deals with the future of crop production. What does your research enable and what is your vision for the future?

Eva Kröner: With my rather basic research I hope to contribute to a better understanding of the physico-biogeochemical processes within the microbial hotspot rhizosphere. An improved knowledge may at a point help to improve breeding and management practice to increase water use efficiency, nutrient acquisition and carbon sequestration and to reduce environmental problems such as groundwater pollution.

PhenoRob: What do you expect from working in a Cluster of Excellence and how would you describe your role in a large-scale research initiative like PhenoRob?

Eva Kröner: The Cluster of Excellence PhenoRob, having so many experts and excellent researchers from related research fields, offers an optimal environment for productive collaborative research which is very much needed especially in my interdisciplinary research area. So, I am very happy about this opportunity to be part of PhenoRob. I am very sure, that also for young researchers and PhD students it offers great conditions for exchange and further scientific development.

Eva Kröner joined Forschungszentrum Jülich and University of Bonn as Professor for Pedogenetic Modelling in July 2020. Born in Aachen, she studied Physics at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg and graduated with a very good diploma in 2012. This was followed by a PhD (summa cum laude) in Soil Hydrology at Georg-August-University of Göttingen in 2016. In the same year she started as Junior Professor in Geophysics at University of Koblenz-Landau. In 2020, as Professor for Pedogenetic Modelling, she joined the Cluster of Exczellenz in Bonn and Jülich.