College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Environmental Science & Technology

ENST Grad Student Attends Soil Classification Congress in South Africa

Barret Wessel.

Barret Wessel, a soil and watershed sciences Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology, attended the 5th International Soil Classification Congress and field tour held in Bloemfontein, South Africa from 1-7 December 2016.

Funding for the conference was obtained through a Love of Learning Award from The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, a Jacob K Goldhaber Travel Award from the UMD Graduate School, and the ENST Pedology Lab.

Wessel attended to present soil classification recommendations from the 8th International Acid Sulfate Soil Conference, held in College Park, MD in July 2016. At this conference, he led a portion of a field tour to teach attendees about his work on the subaqueous soils of the Rhode River, and participated in discussions on other types of acid sulfate soils. These soils can generate sulfuric acid if managed incorrectly, posing a significant environmental hazard in Maryland and other parts of the world.

The field tour portion of the Congress was a four day trip through South Africa to visit farms, contaminated sites, geologic formations, and historic monuments. It was an opportunity to learn about how food can be produced on such dry soils in a region where food security is of great concern. The group visited several soils developed on deposits of radioactive gold-mine tailings, at which Wessel was able to help lead a discussion with his expertise on acid sulfate soils. The group spent two nights in the Vredefort crater, one of the largest impact craters in the world. There, they visited a deposit of pseudotachylite, one of the oldest and rarest rock formations on the surface of the Earth.

Wessel is beginning his third year of PhD study as a student of Martin Rabenhorst. His research focuses on subaqueous soils and acid sulfate soils. He is presently spending a year studying in Denmark as a Fulbright Fellow.

Upon his return to the U.S., Wessel plans to complete his dissertation, pursue a professorship or extension career, and continue to research geographically diverse marine ecosystems, particularly in Nordic countries. 

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