Soil and Environmental Physics

Last changed: 09 December 2022
Purple formations, illustration.

Soil and environmental physics is the study of the flows of energy and matter in the soil-plant-atmosphere system.

This basic process understanding underpins more applied research into how land use and climate influence surface water and groundwater quality, which in turn supports the development of rational management strategies that minimize adverse environmental impacts in agricultural ecosystems.

Read more about our research areas below the slideshow



Soil hydrology and solute transport

Research on water flow and solute transport processes in soil is one of the central themes of our group. This research focuses mainly on the influence of soil structure on hydraulic properties and preferential water flow and solute transport in soil macropores.

We integrate field and laboratory experimental approaches (e.g. dye tracing, tension infiltrometry to characterize near-saturated hydraulic properties, tracer breakthrough experiments, X-ray tomography) with theory and numerical modelling, both as a means to improve our understanding of the processes and also to support the development of model tools used in applied research dealing with pesticide fate in soil, and climate impacts on soil-pant interactions and water quality.

Green formations, illustration.

Air bubbles trapped in a soil column 7 cm diameter and 10 cm in height following rapid saturation imaged by X-ray tomography.

A soil profile with tape measure, photo.

Preferential flow in a soil profile demonstrated by a dye tracing experiment.

Pesticide fate in soils

Agricultural land, photo.

Surface runoff from a field recently sprayed with pesticide. Photo: Nick Jarvis.

We conduct research on the processes governing losses of pesticides from soils to groundwater and surface water. Our group is also developing and maintaining pesticide decision-support and risk assessment tools for various end-users (public authorities, consultants, industry, water authorities) at field, farm, catchment and national scales.

Much of our work focuses on tools based on the numerical dual-permeability model MACRO, but we are also interested in novel ‘index’ methods that estimate losses of pesticides to surface waters in fast transport routes such as surface runoff and preferential flow at the catchment scale. The development of these model tools is funded by CKB (The Centre for Chemical pesticides at SLU) and is supported by our ongoing research in soil hydrology and solute transport. We are also participating in the project PERFORM (coordinated by INRA Versailles-Grignon, France), which has the objective of evaluating the impacts of complex crop rotations on the risks of pesticide leaching.

Climate impacts on the soil-plant system and water quality

Climate affects numerous soil processes and soil-plant interactions. Climate change will directly affect diffuse nutrient and pesticide losses by altering key hydrologic processes and also critical turnover and transformation processes in soil, through altered soil moisture and temperature regimes. We use process-oriented mathematical models driven by time-series weather data (e.g. COUP, MACRO, MACRO-SE) to study climate impacts on soil-plant systems and to predict nutrient and pesticide loadings to water systems in a changing climate.

We are also evaluating the impacts of historical climate on nutrient losses by statistical analysis of long-term field experiments and data from environmental monitoring programs collected from arable fields and agricultural catchments.

Our research activities are linked to the FACCE-JPI MACSUR EU-network on modelling climate change impacts on agriculture, especially the scaling of processes in time and space ("Scale it!").

The research group

Nicholas Jarvis, Professor

Water flow and solute transport in structured (macroporous) soil.

Elisabet Lewan, Associate professor

Water and nitrogen flows in agricultural ecosystems; Process-oriented soil-vegetation modelling, climate change impacts and risk assessments. Director of PhD-studies in Soil Sciences and Program Director for the Masters program in Soil and Water Management.

Mats Larsbo, Associate professor

Experimental studies on soil structure effects on solute transport. Modelling pesticide transport in the unsaturated zone. Teaching soil physics in the Environmental and aquatic engineering program.

Gunnel Alvenäs, PhD

Director of studies for the Undergraduate program in Biological and Environmental Sciences. Teaching in Hydrology and Soil and Environmental Physics.

Elsa Coucheney, PhD

Modelling soil carbon and nitrogen turnover. Climate impacts on carbon and nitrogen fluxes in agricultural ecosystems.

John Koestel, Associate Professor

Water, gas, solute and energy flows in soils and associated scaling relationships. Temporal evolution of soil structure and related soil physical properties; application of non-invasive imaging and machine learning methods.

Ana Villa Solis, PhD

P- and N-losses from arable land, spatial modelling and GIS.

Jumpei Fukumasu, PhD student
Anna Schwenk, PhD student
David Nimblad Svensson, PhD student




Professor Nicholas Jarvis

Department of Soil and Environment, 018-672465