New MSc thesis topic: "Potentially Toxic Trace Elements (PTTEs) profiles in the varved sediments of the Faulenseemoos"

We propose a collaborative Master thesis project between the groups of Prof. Willy Tinner (Paleoecology, IPS) and of Prof. Adrien Mestrot (Soil Science, GIUB) on the topic of "Potentially Toxic Trace Elements (PTTEs) profiles in the varved sediments of Faulenseemoos". Faulenseemoos, a bog in the Bernese Oberland, provides with its seasonally layered deposits a natural archive. Preserved in these varves are proxies such as pollen, diatoms and insect remains, as well as elements and stable isotopes that provide information about the history of vegetation, plants, animals, water quality, temperatures, precipitation, and intensity and type of agriculture practiced by our ancestors. Using PTTEs (commonly known as heavy metals) as proxies, one can also retrace the economic development and pollution history of a catchment. For more information on this MSc thesis topic, please download the flyer.

MSc thesis Faulenseemoos (PDF, 79KB)


Group event at the Engehalbinsel

On May 1st, the Soil Science group had a group event at the Engehalbinsel to clean and restore the six soil profiles. These profiles are representatives of Swiss soils and are used by different educational institutions to teach the formation of soils. A website (Berner Böden) providing further information on the six soil profiles, their formation and properties will soon be available. The fun group event was rounded off with dinner at the restaurant Zehendermätteli im Glück. Thank you to everyone who came to help!


Guest speaker 07.05.2024

In our next colloquium (Tuesday, 07.05. at 16h15 in Mittelstrasse 43, Seminarraum 234), Dr. Matthias Wiggenhauser, "Oberassistent" in the Group of Plant Nutrition at the Insitute of Agricultural Sciences, ETH Zurich, will give a talk entitled "Leveraging Isotope Tools to Determine the Fate of Trace Metals in Agroecosystem". He will present how novel isotope tools can be used to precisely quantify fluxes of trace metals and to identify the underlaying biogeochemical processes that control these pathwas along the soil-crop-human continuum. For more information, please dowload the flyer.

Guest speaker 07.05.2024 (PDF, 884KB)


Guest speaker 23.04.2024

In our next colloquium (Tuesday, 24.03. at 16h15), Dr. Olena Melnyk, Senior Researcher at the Department of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich, will give a talk entitled "Environmental Effects of the War in Ukraine: Spotlight on Soil Damage Assessment and Mapping". She will present a project that aims at enhancing the capacity for mapping, environmental monitoring, and managing the effects of war-induced damage on Ukraine's agricultural land, utilizing existing networks of scientists and field-based analysis to safeguard food security. For more information, please dowload the flyer.

Guest speaker 23.04.2024 (PDF, 867KB)


New collaborative paper out in PNAS!

A new paper coming out of the Interfaculty Research Collaboration “One Health” has just been published in PNAS. This work led by Dr Veronica Caggìa of the Institute of Plant Sciences reveals a mechanism by which a dominant class of plant secondary metabolites, namely benzoxazinoids, can reduce plant arsenic accumulation and toxicity. This work expands the available genetically encoded resistance strategies to stabilize crop productivity in polluted agroecosystems. Congrats to all those involved!


Guest speaker 19.03.2024

In our next colloquium (March 19th at 16h15), Prof. Britta Planer-Friedrich from Bayreuth University will give a talk entitled "Hidden to most, a potential threat to many – on the environmental occurrence and mobility of thioarsenates and their uptake in food." For more information, please download the flyer.

Guest speaker 19.03.2024 (PDF, 125KB)


The Soil Science colloquium of the spring semester 2024 starts soon

The Colloquium will take place on Tuesdays from February 20th to May 28th from 16h15 to 18h00. Interested people are welcome to attend in person in room 002 of the GIUB (Hallerstrasse 12). For more information, please download the flyer. Looking forward to meeting you there!

Soil Science Colloquium Spring Semester 2024 (PDF, 794KB)


Winter event at KaWeDe

The Soil Science winter event took place on February 15th. First we met for ice skating on the Ka-We-De artificial ice rink. After having dinner at the Ka-We-De Bistro with burgers and fries, we tried out the winter sport "Eisstockschiessen". After a few attempts, everybody was more or less successful 😉 and we played three rounds. Thank you Adrian, Luzia and Dominik for organising this fun event.


Livia defended her MSc thesis

On February 14th, Livia successfully defended her master's thesis entitled "Historical Atmospheric Gaseous Elemental Mercury Reconstruction using European Larch Tree Rings in Switzerland". Congratulations Livia and all the best for your future endeavours!


Seminar Invitation "Trace elements in wild animals in Switzerland"

Sabnam and Ladina cordially invite you to a seminar on trace element analysis on roe deer, lynx, and wolves as part of the PhD project "Mercury in Terrestrial Environment in Switzerland" and master's project "Trace element concentrations in wolves and lynx organs" supervised by Prof. Dr. Adrien Mestrot in collaboration with the Institute of Fish and Wildlife Health (FIWI), University of Bern. For more information, please download the flyer.

Seminar Invitation (PDF, 481KB) Site map "Tierspital Bern" (PDF, 696KB)



The Soil Science unit is part of the COST Action PLANTMETALS and in an effort to disseminate knowledge, a vulgarisation video was produced about the importance of trace elements in soils & plants and showcase which laboratory methods are used to analyse these trace elements. This 10 min videos is very helpful to understand some of the research conducted in the Soil Science Unit. Also, you will find some footage from the cLAB featuring our own Ms. Andrea Weber and Dr. Lorenz Gfeller at about 5:00 in the video 😊.


Adrien was part of a podium discussion at the 5th Global Science Film Festival, Bern Edition

The 5th Global Science Film Festival, Bern Edition, presented by the mLAB in collaboration with the Swiss Science Film Academy, took place on 28.-29. October 2023. The festival screened international feature films, documentaries and short films that link social developments with current scientific debates. The first film presented was a documentary entitled "Water.Land.Fire - International premiere", directed and written by Natalia Shevchenko and produced by Yevhen Tkach. This documentary showed the impact of the current war on the environment in Ukraine and how scientists from different disciplines are working to document what is happening in order to assess the consequences for ecosystems. The film was followed by a discussion on the ecological consequences of war and scientific work in war zones with producer Yevhen Tkach and Prof. Dr. Adrien Mestrot. Adrien introduced the joint project with Kateryna Polianska, which includes Lena Merz's BSc thesis and Luzia Klopfenstein's MSc thesis, in which soil samples from Ukraine are analysed for trace elements.


Welcome Ikram!

Dr. Ikram Bakour obtained a PhD in analytical chemistry (Anglet, France), where she was interested in developing analytical methods to understand the speciation and transformations of mercury in bacteria cells. She has started a postdoc and scientific coordinator position in the soil science group from 1 October. Ikram will be working with Ursina on the release and speciation of antimony in soils upon flooding and in flooded soils, with a particular focus on the biomethylation and biovolatilisation of antimony. She will be in charge of developing new methods and direct measurements of antimony species in soils incubations and the environment.


Guest speaker 17.10.2023

Dr. Yasmine Farhat is a biogeochemist with a deep passion for global food security and sustainable development. She is a post-doc at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, where she currently co-leads the Lebanese Team on an EU-sponsored project to develop and implement Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem (WEFE) Nexus solutions in seven different Mediterranean countries. In her talk, Yasmine Farhat summarises recent advancements in the understanding of temperature-driven increases in rice arsenic and includes her own research which utilises temperature-controlled growth chambers to simulate future levels of warming as predicted by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For more information, please download the flyer.

Guest speaker 17.10.2023 (PDF, 765KB)


Sara and Sarah defended their Master's thesis

Sara and Sarah successfully defended their Master's thesis entitled "Utilisation of drained organic soils in the St. Galler Rhine Valley and in the Grosses Moos – Needs and concerns regarding future soil use" (German: "Nutzung entwässerter, organischer Böden im St. Galler Rheintal und im Grossen Moos – Bedürfnisse und Anliegen bezüglich der künftigen Bodennutzung"). Drained, organic soils are currently under pressure due to soil degradation and different utilisation demands. In the two study areas Grosses Moos (BE / FR) and St. Galler Rheintal (SG), the perspectives of groups of actors (agriculture, ecology, authorities, research) were recorded and compared with each other in order to identify different points of view and at the same time to show common approaches to solutions. Congratulations Sara and Sarah and all the best for your future endeavours!


Congratulations Dr. Lorenz Gfeller!

Lorenz successfully defended his PhD thesis entitled "Exploring the Dynamics and Distribution of Mercury and Organomercury Species in Soils: Microcosm Experiments and Field Studies." In his dissertation, Lorenz (i) demonstrated the uneven distribution of Hg and MeHg in an alpine valley, with surprisingly high MeHg concentrations in tree groves and evidence of atmospheric Hg deposition in the valley, (ii) improved MeHg extraction methods, (iii) used organo-Hg speciation and hgcA gene analyses to assess deposition of organo-Hg species, and (iv) investigated the mobilization and methylation dynamics of Hg following flooding and fertilization in contaminated soils using mesocosm experiments. We wish Lorenz all the best for his future endeavours!


Hang's 1st paper has been accepted!

New paper from the One Health Consortium at UniBern on the links between soil microbiome, plants and arsenic: Hang Guan has published her first paper on her PhD thesis! Congrats Hang! The paper is titled: “The Effects of Soil Microbial Disturbance and Plants on Arsenic Concentrations and Speciation in Soil Water and Soils” and is available under the link below. In this greenhouse pot experiment with maize (Zea mays L.) grown in soils containing different arsenic levels, we could show that the soil microbiome as well as the presence of plants seems to play a role in the release of As from soils to soil solution. At higher arsenic levels, maize interacted with microbes to mitigate arsenic bioavailability.


New Interdisciplinary paper: “Exhibiting toxicity: sprayed strawberries and geographies of hope”

In May 2022, Adrien, Nora Komposh from Cultural Geography and artist Lucy Sabin conducted a one month residency at the GIUB, funded by the mLAB, to explore exposures to pesticides and other contaminants through panel discussions, scientific talks and farm visits. They then wrote a scientific article, just published in Cultural Geographies, on the art exhibition that concluded this residency. The paper offers a reflection on the exhibition as an immersive site for figuratively re-sensing lived experiences of heavily polluted places. The exhibition provided space in which configurations of matter, affect and atmospherics might allow contemplation of environmental toxicity, while also being a means of voicing the care, solidarity and hope enacted by affected communities.


Goodbye Coaláin

Coaláin McCreanor was an intern in the Soil Science group from March to June 2023. He was working on Swiss paddy fields looking at arsenic and other trace elements. In September 2023 he will be starting his PhD at Queen’s University Belfast. The Soil Science group wishes Coaláin all the best for his PhD and his future endeavours!


Goodbye Teresa

Dr. Teresa González de Chávez started working in our group as a Postdoc in May 2019. She co-supervised two PhD-students, Dr. Hang Guan and Dr. Mohana Mukherjee, both part of the Interfaculty Research Cooperation One Health. From March 2020, she was Interim Head of the Chemistry Laboratory and Lecturer in Laboratory Methods and worked as research associate and lecturer. During this time, she was not only dedicated to providing interesting lectures for the students, but also maintained an overview of the demanding planning of the laboratory renovation and made it an enjoyable place to work in the laboratory thanks to her organised and structured manner. The Soil Science group wishes Teresa all the best in her future endeavours!


Mercury in Terrestrial Environment: Final Project Meeting

The final meeting for the project "Mercury in the Terrestrial Environment", started in 2019 and financed by the Federal Office for the Environment, was held on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Sabnam Mahat, the project's PhD student, and Prof. Dr. Adrien Mestrot, the project's PhD supervisor, coordinated the meeting. It was attended by collaborators from the Swiss Ornithological Institute together with advisory board members from the Federal Office for the Environment, including representatives from the Wildlife and Forest Biodiversity Section and the Industrial Chemicals Section, representative from the Federal Office for Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs, researchers from ETH Zürich, and students from the Institute of Geography, Soil Science unit at the University of Bern. The project’s findings and their implications for the future were presented by Sabnam and discussed with everyone. People on the picture from left to right: Michel Wildi (BAFU), Stefan Osterwalder (ETH), Sylvain Bouchet (ETH/METAS), Lorenz Gfeller (UniBern), Adrien Mestrot (UniBern), Andreas Buser (BAFU), Sabnam Mahat (UniBern), Beat Brueschweiler (BLV), Bettina Almasi (Vogelwarte), Michel Wildi (BAFU), missing Harold Bouchex-Bellomie (BAFU).


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