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‘Highlight of my life’

Fellowship of $40,000 to support round-the-world soil sampling

By Kelly Foss

A Memorial student is one of two Canadian recipients of the Kimberley Foundation’s Hugh Morris Fellowship – valued at a maximum of $40,000.

Jeremiah Vallotton is an environmental science PhD candidate in the Faculty of Science.

The fellowship supports a graduate student at a Canadian university to “undertake a program of self-guided travel and experiential learning for studies related to earth, geology, environment, water, alternative energy, climate change, sustainability or the social impact, social sciences or design sciences concerned with earth, sustainability or environmental issues.”

The foundation gives special consideration to learning programs that seek to ultimately contribute to global sustainability or lead to significant social impact.

Cut more forest?

Mr. Vallotton’s research area is in soil science and agriculture. His program at Memorial focuses on soil carbon and how it is managed by humans.

“As the climate shifts, there’s a distinct likelihood we will start shifting agriculture north, which means we may start cutting down forests,” he said. “Since the boreal zone contains 35 per cent of the world’s carbon, that’s a pretty big deal.

“However, we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past,” he continued. “We already botched it in the grasslands – the Great Plains, prairies and steppes – but we don’t need to keep on botching it. If we can figure out the dynamics of carbon when transitioning land from natural use into human-managed use in these regions, then maybe we can understand how to keep carbon in the soil rather than just releasing it.”

Jeremiah Vallotton is an environmental science PhD candidate in the Faculty of Science.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Mr. Vallotton’s winning proposal would see him visit nine locations across the world, including the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland; the University of Leeds in England; the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Switzerland; the Natural Resources Institute Finland; the National University of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar; Landcare Research (Manaaki Whenua) in New Zealand; the University of Alaska; the University of Saskatchewan; and McGill University in Quebec.

“Canada has a lot of boreal land, but boreal and alpine soil is present in many other parts of the world,” he said. “I want to go to these different boreal locations, learn everything about their farming and soil management techniques, share knowledge and bring it back here.”

“I will be able to compare carbon in soils across the globe, giving my research lasting relevance and scope.” — Jeremiah Vallotton

He plans on conducting interviews with farmers and researchers in agricultural institutions, do some soil sampling and arrange for people there to collect soil samples for him. They will send the samples back to Canada so Mr. Vallotton can run the same tests on them that he will run on Canadian soil.

“Ultimately, I will be able to compare carbon in soils across the globe, giving my research lasting relevance and scope.”

COVID-19 delay

Mr. Vallotton originally planned to leave St. John’s in May and complete his travels by September, spending approximately three weeks in each location. However, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has caused a delay of at least a year.

When he is given the go-ahead to begin, the Kimberley Foundation will cover the entire cost, including travel, housing and food.

“I’m optimistic,” he said. “This is the highlight of my life and God is gracious. It will all work out.”

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