Goutham Thotakuri is a graduate student in the Kravchenko lab at Michigan State University. His research is focused on the study of carbon transfer between various cover crop species and soil carbon sequestration.
Recent changes to our climate dynamics have brought on alarming drought conditions in many parts of the world. Since we cannot control the climate, we need to prepare our agricultural systems for adversity.
One way to do this is through understanding the soil’s hydro-physical and biochemical processes. We can identify critical factors influencing drought resilience by unraveling the complexities of these processes. This understanding helps to develop strategies to maintain the soil’s ability for moisture retention, optimize nutrient availability, and support the adaptability of plant species to water-deficit conditions. Eventually, tailoring the strategies can enhance long-term carbon storage and contribute to climate change mitigation efforts.
I have been doing my research at the KBS LTER since July 2022. The Rain Exclusion eXperiment (REX), which began in 2021, manipulates rainfall conditions to simulate future climate change scenarios. This experiment has given me a unique opportunity to study changes in soil pore structure in response to drought. During drought, soil dries and the particles come closer together, resulting in smaller pores and compaction. The soil shrinks and can cause cracks in the soil surface, affecting the arrangement of soil particles and pore structure.
Using REX, I analyze the soil pore size distribution, porosity, and pore connectivity. To quantify the desired parameters, we used a non-destructive approach of the X-ray µCT technique. The µCT allows for the accurate quantification of soil pore structure, and the information is essential for understanding water movement, gas exchange, and microbial habitat of soil. Image acquisition involves several steps, starting from preparing the soil sample, saturating it with water, and draining all the water from the soil pores. Since image acquisition generates enormous amounts of data, and image processing is time-consuming, the scanning process is ongoing.
Moreover, my research interest is also driven by the soil’s biological activity involving microbial biomass carbon, the activity of hydrolytic enzymes, and the quantification of ergosterol content. My focus on biological parameters is due to the reason that soil pores of a few microns range are hotspots for microbial activity and long-term C storage. Hence, combining the studies on soil pore structure and associated microbial activity provides more meaningful insights into the drought effects on soil. To expand my understanding of drought in different soil conditions, I am also actively working on soils under rainout shelters of marginal land experiment (MLE) research sites (Escanaba, Lux Arbor, Lake City, Rhinelander, and Hancock). I am excited to see where the path would lead me in terms of results, and I believe my research would contribute as a significant snippet to the scientific research community.