Colorado State University Soil Chemistry Professor Wins Prestigious National Science Foundation Career Award

Thomas Borch, assistant professor of environmental soil chemistry in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University, has won a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation. The honor is considered one of the most prestigious for up-and-coming researchers in science and engineering.

The nearly $500,000, five-year CAREER award will support Borch’s research on climate change impacts on the interrelationship between iron cycling and organic carbon.

In particular, Borch will use the grant to investigate how climate change, and especially the projections of increased precipitation and flooding, may impact important biogeochemical cycles such as that of iron. Iron is the most abundant redox-active metal ion in the earth’s crust. Iron minerals are among the most important reactive solids in earth surface environments, acting as natural filters of inorganic contaminants and nutrients, sorbents for organic matter, and poising the redox potential of groundwater. Lack of biologically available iron in soils can also lead to iron deficiency anemia which is a major public health and financial problem in Central Asia, with primary impact on woman and children.

Iron minerals are responsible, in part, for stabilization of organic matter in soils. Consequently, any changes in iron chemistry may also result in changes in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and the global climate. One of the research objectives is to determine the impact of increasing water content on the iron mineralogy and chemical structure of humic substances along subalpine moisture gradients at the Fool Creek Watershed at the USDA Forest Service Fraser Experimental Forest in Colorado. In high-elevation watersheds of the Rocky Mountains, more than 95 percent of spring snowmelt infiltrates through soils and moves along shallow groundwater flow paths before merging with stream water. In fact, one-sixth of the world’s population depends on water released from seasonal snowpacks and glaciers, so an improved understanding of the soil processes that sustain the supply of clean water from mountain headwaters is critical to current and future human natural resource demands.

"This award will allow us to initiate a new important research area in environmental biogeochemistry at CSU, attract high-caliber postdoctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, and develop a set of new courses targeting undergraduate students interested in environmental biogeochemical processes from the molecular scale to field scale," said Borch. "In addition, the proposed research will involve the use of advanced synchrotron radiation-based spectroscopy which will allow us to bring CSU students to the National Laboratories and teach them about state-of-the-art techniques which will help them become more competitive for future research and teaching careers."

Borch earned his doctorate degree in 2003 from Montana State University in environmental soil chemistry. He also did a postdoctoral fellowship (2004-2006) at Stanford University in soil and environmental biogeochemistry from 2004-2006. Borch earned his Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of Copenhagen in environmental chemistry in 1999 and 1997, respectively.

Borch joined Colorado State University in 2005 to initiate a program in environmental soil chemistry. Borch, who also holds a joint appointment to the Department of Chemistry at Colorado State, is a member of CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability; an associate with the Institute for Environmental Solutions; is listed among the AcademicKeys Who’s Who in Sciences Higher Education; and Marquis Who’s Who in America. He is a member of the Soil Science Society of America, the American Chemical Society and the Danish Chemical Society.