Dr. Steffen Schweizer

Raum 4217.01.140

Telefon: +49 8161 71 -4423
Fax: +49 8161 71 -4466


Understanding organic matter storage in soils

Right under our feet, soils harbor vast amounts of organic matter thanks to various stabilization mechanisms. I am interested to disentangle specific biogeochemical properties that determine the fate of organic matter and its contained C and N in soils. To generate a fundamental understanding of how organic matter is stored, turned over and lost in soil systems, the formation of stable soil structures, the detection of potential carbon storage forms and the identification of interactions with soil minerals, plants and microbes form a central theme of my scientific approach.

Soil structure

When digging into a soil, its constituents never occur alone but bind together forming soil structures. Such aggregation processes determine which soil components get in close contact enabling biogeochemical interactions and what kind of pore space is left for the air and water cycle in between soil particles. The arrangement of soil structures provide a dynamic scaffolding which can induce physical and chemical barriers that are intertwined with organic matter storage and the terrestrial carbon cycle. Exploring soils from the perspective of complex structural units opens up new possibilities to research questions on their important role in organic C and N cycling.

The microscale perspective to resolve and better understand soil processes

Soil properties and functions differ tremendously when compared across landscapes. When zooming into soils, we also find a striking heterogeneity of their biogeochemical composition in space and time. At the microscale, a complex soil architecture creates dynamic landscapes at the scale of reactive fine-sized mineral particles, mineral-associated organic matter and soil microorganisms. In my research hypotheses, I address the compartmentalization of soil at the microscale into areas with distinct biogeochemical properties and functions. This is needed to systematically resolve the heterogeneity of mineral-microbial interactions and upscale the combined functionality of various compartments to soil as a whole. To analyze the soil at the microscale I take the advantage of a complementary range of spectromicroscopic techniques that provide the opportunity to observe microbes at work, probe highly active spheres and microenvironments around roots or detritus and follow the interactions of organic matter with mineral phases. Further information on our NanoSIMS and its possibilities to measure the distribution of various elements and isotopes can be found here. I aim to reveal spatial patterns that systematically explain the functioning of heterogeneous soil architecture at the microscale.

The global relevance of soils beyond temperate zones

I’m convinced that the investigation of agricultural practices in concert with innovative scientific expertise is critical for viable contributions to a better understanding of agroecosystems and their sustainable intensification. For all these reasons, I tackle scientific challenges based on interdisciplinary approaches, active science communication and cooperation across biogeochemical disciplines in my work.

In the summer semester: Introduction to Soil Science (Lecture, English, 2 h/week), Applied Physics: Soil Hydrology (Lecture, German) and Basic field soil science as well as Excursion Fundamentals in Restoration Ecology (Field exercises, approximately 1.4-2.1 h/week)

In the winter semester: Soil protection - Soil functions under different use (Seminar, German, 2 h/week), Analytical Characterization of Soil Resources (Lecture and laboratory course, English, approximately 2 h/week) and Agricultural Soil Protection (Lecture, German, 0.5 h/week)

Since August 2020   Wissenschaftlicher Assistent (Scientific assistant) at the Chair for Soil Science, Technical University of Munich, Germany
Dec 2015 - July 2020  

Researcher and doctoral candidate at the Chair for Soil Science, Technical University of Munich, Germany

Dissertation: “Soil microaggregation and microspatial patterns of organic matter accrual” (summa cum laude)

June - Nov 2015   Scientific project associate at ETH Zurich (Switzerland)
Oct 2012 - 2015   M.Sc. Agricultural Sciences with major in soil sciences at the University of Hohenheim, Germany (very good)
Oct 2009 – Oct 2012  

B.Sc. Agricultural Sciences at the University of Hohenheim, Germany (very good)

  • Best poster award at 7th International Symposium on Soil Organic Matter 2019
  • Hans H. Ruthenberg Award 2016 of the fiat panis foundation
  • DBG special poster award 2015 for commitment to the Young Professionals Soil Science
  • NatureLife Sustainability Prize (Tropics and subtropics) 2015
  • Prize video contest of the Bundesverband Boden e. V. 2014 https://youtu.be/9CPJ0T2v8B8
  • Dr. Hermann Eiselen Research-Grant for field research within M.Sc. thesis 2013
  • Award for Special Students' Commitment in Hohenheim 2013

Active member of the German soil science society (DBG) since 2013, of the Bundesverband Boden since 2015, of the Swiss Soil Science Society (BGS/SSP) since 2015 and of the European Geosciences Union since 2016. Early Career Scientist representative of Soil System Sciences division in the EGU April 2017 – 2020.

Regular peer-reviewer for several journals in the field of soil biogeochemistry:

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