April 29, 2022

Soil Ecosystems Collection Established

EMSL pilots database creation of molecular-level data of belowground ecosystems

person crouches holding instrument that is in the ground

Researchers from around North America are sending soil cores to the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory to contribute to a standardized database of molecular-level data of belowground ecosystems.

(Photo by Eddie Pablo III | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Researchers from the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a Department of Energy user facility at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, are partnering with collaborators to collect soil cores from a variety of ecosystems, including urban, agricultural, prairie, forest, and desert ecosystems across North America.

Through the 1000 Soils Research Pilot, EMSL is pioneering the development of a first-of-its-kind database of molecular-level data from belowground ecosystems.

The 1000 Soils research pilot is part of EMSL’s Molecular Observation Network (MONet) strategic objective, which is designed to develop a national network of environmental sampling and sensing sites. (Video by Eddie Pablo III | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.)

Community collaboration is key

So far, 20 cores have been shipped to EMSL from academic institutions and federal partners like Washington State University (WSU) Vancouver and the National Ecological Observatory Network, said Emily Graham, an Earth scientist and leader of EMSL’s Biogeochemical Transformations Integrated Research Platform.

Another 60 cores are expected to be collected over the next few months, and the project is open for additional researchers to join the effort. For more information on collaborations, researchers can contact Emily Graham or the 1000 Soils team.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have generously made their soils available for collection and study by researchers from WSU Vancouver. At WSU, Stephanie Porter, Kevan Moffett, Tanya Cheeke, and Brittany LeTendre have been leading a related greenhouse study on the role of plant–soil interactions in post-fire forest regeneration.

Porter, an associate professor in WSU Vancouver’s School of Biological Sciences, says 1000 Soils has provided researchers with the opportunity to gain a “rich, cutting-edge understanding of how repeated wildfires affect soils.”

“Our collaboration with 1000 Soils has revealed the tremendous power of layering multiple powerful techniques to quantify physical, chemical, and biological attributes of soils to provide a comprehensive and integrative understanding of the impacts of fire on forest soils,” said Porter. “I never imagined this level of detailed understanding would be possible.”

High-resolution measurements enable data to be gathered on soil pore network structure, soil organic matter composition, and soil chemistry and to improve understanding about soils and carbon cycling.


The 1000 Soils pilot is part of EMSL’s Molecular Observation Network (MONet) strategic objective, which will develop a national network of environmental sampling and sensing sites. MONet is designed to enable the Biological and Environmental Research community to produce comprehensive molecular-level information on the composition and structure of soil, water, and resident microbial communities needed to advance multiscale models of Earth systems.

Learn how to collaborate with EMSL’s 1000 Soils.



About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://www.energy.gov/science/. For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: April 29, 2022