Menu Close
Professor and Lawes Trust Senior Fellow, Rothamsted Research

David Powlson is emeritus professor and Lawes Trust Senior Fellow at Rothamsted Research, from which he retired in 2006, and is visiting professor at the department of Soil Science in the School of Human and Environmental Sciences at the University of Reading. His previous work at Rothamsted was to lead research on carbon cycling. His research interests include the dynamics of organic carbon in soil and the interactions between land management and climate change. He is currently contributing to projects on carbon cycling and the use of biomass crops for energy generation.

He is enthusiastic about the value of long term experiments as facilities for research in agricultural and environmental science. He is contributing to an international initiative to promote the greater use of long term experimental sites; see

Another interest is the cycling of nitrogen in agro-ecosystems and the efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer. He is currently working as a consultant on a project in China aimed at delivering information to farmers as a basis for rational decision making on nitrogen fertilizer use.

David’s initial research, for his Ph.D. in 1972, was the development of a technique for measuring the quantity of carbon held in the cells of living microorganisms in soil, termed the soil microbial biomass. After a post-doctoral period in Malaysia working on the management of acid sulphate soils, he returned to Rothamsted and conducted research on various aspects of carbon and nitrogen cycling in soils and interactions between agriculture and the wider environment. He spent the period 1990-2003 as Head of the Soil Science Department. In 2007 he was awarded Honorary Membership of the British Society of Soil Science in recognition of distinguished contributions to soil science; he was President of the Society from 1998-2000.

Research topics:

Long-term soil carbon changes and SOMNET
Identification and modelling of soil organic matter fractions
Black carbon
Climate change and soil interactions
Bio fuels
Area(s) of expertise:

Dynamics of carbon and nitrogen in soil.
Applications of spectroscopic techniques to the study of soil organic matter.
Implications of soil organic matter content for soil quality.
Climate change and land management.
Factors influencing the sustainability of agricultural systems.
Minimising nitrogen losses from cropping systems.


  • –present
    Lawes Trust Senior Fellow, Rothamstead Research