New observatory to probe the mysteries of Earth’s ‘forgotten’ subsoil

Article by Erik Stokstad, Science

In October 2021, the U.S. National Science Foundation announced funding for a new $19 million research facility, called the Deep Soil Ecotron, that aims to make studying this frontier easier. The initial design for the lab, to be built over the next 5 years at the University of Idaho, calls for 24 richly instrumented soil columns topped with airtight chambers for vegetation. These ecosystems-in-a-lab, or ecounits, will allow researchers to manipulate environmental conditions down to 3 meters. Surprises are assured. “It’s kind of like when people launched the first deep-sea submarine,” says Zachary Kayler, a co–principal investigator (co-PI) and biogeochemist at the University of Idaho. “The possibilities are endless.”