Students Dig up Science at CSU Summer Soil Institute

Underneath our planet’s surface is a world of minerals, microorganisms, and organic matter collectively known as soil, and humbly driving life on Earth.  Twenty-four students from around the world got to dig deep on soil science at Colorado State University’s 5th annual Summer Soil Institute (SSI) June 15-28, 2014 in Fort Collins, Colo.

Hosted by the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources, the unique course provides an integrated perspective of the interactions among living organisms in soils, the chemistry of organic and mineral matter, and the physical structure of soil. Participants got to work with an interdisciplinary team of world-renowned CSU soil experts like Diana Wall, M. Francesca Cotrufo, and John Moore to gain a strong understanding of soil ecology and current soil issues, such as carbon sequestration.

“Soils are Earth’s fragile skin and enable food production, provide clean water, and are fundamental to human well-being,” said Matthew Wallenstein, SSI instructor and professor at CSU. “The Summer Soil Institute is working to advance education opportunities that can help scientists and educators better understand this incredible, underground ecosystem and how to sustainably manage it for human and environmental well-being.”

SSI is designed for a range of participants including K-12 teachers, environmental professionals, graduate students, post-doctoral students and faculty. The program was initiated through a USDA grant and has trained 120 students worldwide so far.
Participants in the two-week course gain hands-on experience with a range of soil analytical techniques including soil chemistry, pedology, microbiology and ecology. Morning lectures and discussions are brought to life daily with field site visits to Colorado grassland and forested ecosystems where participants study and collect diverse soils. The class brings back samples to CSU laboratories where they get to practice a variety of cutting-edge analyses. 

The course also includes lectures and workshops from CSU faculty, and this year included three visiting experts sharing their knowledge and passion for soil science.

“The Summer Soil Institute was a great experience, and most importantly, I walked away understanding the status of the field of soil science,” said Sheila Saia, a 2014 SSI participant and graduate student at Cornell University. “It was tremendously beneficial to learn from and talk to soil experts like those at CSU and other leading universities and gain hands-on experience in soil analysis techniques, which could be used to answer pressing scientific questions.”

Past participants in SSI say the course is a great career investment, as it addresses emerging issues that are propelling future environmental research and industry trends.

“I think SSI is a fantastic opportunity for someone early in their graduate career to gain a broad, multi-disciplinary perspective on soil science. The instructors are all top-notch and it’s great to see the range of questions people are interested in and what tools they use to answer those questions,” said Kabir Peay, Assistant Professor at Stanford University and past SSI participant.

Dates and application deadline for 2015 are still being determined. For more information, visit

Posted on July 14, 2014

CSU researchers contribute to new USDA report and tools to measure, manage greenhouse gas emissions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today released a report that, for the first time, provides uniform scientific methods for quantifying the changes in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon storage from various land management and conservation activities.  Colorado State University faculty members served as authors and external science advisors on the new report, and a CSU team is leading the implementation of a new online tool that provides customized GHG reports and management plans in accordance with the new guidelines.

The report, Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory, will help the USDA evaluate greenhouse gas mitigation programs and develop new tools to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participate in emerging carbon markets.

“This report provides science-based methods for quantifying greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage on farms, ranches and forests, allowing managers of these entities to calculate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while building carbon storage and improving production efficiency on their lands,” said Stephen Ogle, associate professor in CSU’s Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and senior scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL).

Ogle was the lead author of the cropland/grassland working group and the wetlands working group, two of the four groups convened by the USDA for the methods development, which also included forestry and livestock.

To help make the new GHG guidelines more accessible and applicable, an interdisciplinary research team led by CSU Department of Soil and Crop Sciences Professor Keith Paustian is implementing the new web-based tool, COMET-Farm, in conjunction with the report. The site will allow users to select their land use (including cropland, grassland, livestock and agroforestry), enter information about their management practices, and then generate a report on their current baseline emissions and how emissions could be reduced with GHG management practices.

“Quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from land use is particularly difficult, because there are so many interacting processes and factors that affect emissions,” said Paustian, who is also a senior scientist with NREL. “COMET-Farm is unique in that it allows non-experts to use very advanced methods, databases and models for greenhouse gas inventory, via a fully spatial, user-friendly interface. We think it will be a very powerful tool to aid land managers and others working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land-use activities.”

Paustian also served as an external science advisor on the USDA report, along with Shawn Archibeque, associate professor of animal sciences at CSU. CSU researchers Mark Easter and Ernie Marx also contributed to the report. The lead software engineer on COMET-Farm, CSU computer science alumnus Kevin Brown, is the lead software engineer on COMET-Farm, and his team includes several CSU undergraduate students in computer science, engineering and agriculture.

The USDA report is the work of 38 experts in GHG estimation in the cropland, grazing land, livestock and forest management sectors across academia, the USDA and other agencies of the federal government. The report was reviewed by an additional 29 scientists, other federal experts, and the public. While developing the report, reviewers considered scientific rigor, transparency, completeness, accuracy, and cost effectiveness, as well as consistency and comparability with other federal GHG inventory efforts.

The report can be downloaded at

For more information on the USDA’s climate change activities, visit and click on “Climate Solutions.”

Posted on Aug. 8, 2014

CSU Professor Robin Reid receives Michael P. Malone International Leadership Award

Robin Reid of Colorado State University has received the 2014 Michael P. Malone International Leadership Award for her career of significant contributions to advancing international education at public and land-grant institutions.  Reid was one of three recipients of the Malone Award, which is sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU).

Reid and fellow recipients Amit Chakma of Western University and Krishnaswami Srihari of Binghamton University received their awards during a ceremony at APLU’s 2014 Commission on International Initiatives (CII) summer meeting July 14, in Berkeley, Calif.  

“Robin Reid personifies the interdisciplinary approach that Colorado State University fosters in our faculty,” said Rick Miranda, provost and executive vice president of Colorado State. “She has made enormous contributions to international education and development, and she is a passionate advocate who displays her infectious enthusiasm for her work at every level.”

Reid is director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation, a professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, and a senior scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory – all based in Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources.

For the last 27 years, she has led education, research and outreach projects in the drylands of Africa, Asia and North America. Her current work focuses on how to transform international higher education to be more inclusive of under-represented groups and more useful for local problem solving. She was also instrumental in forging the first Key Strategic Partnership between CSU and an African university, the University of Nairobi, in 2012.