Siberian cryogel can prevent soil erosion

Scientists from Tomsk University (Siberia, Russia) have developed a new technology to save the soil from erosion by using a special polymer substance – a cryogel.

Due to soil erosion and desertification of fertile lands, we lose millions of hectares of agricultural land every year. Climate change and unsustainable human activities accelerate this process.

The Tomsk scientists chose Khakassia, the agricultural centre of Southern Siberia, for their experiments. Because of the dry and windy climate, soil here is exposed to severe weathering – wind erosion. As estimated by the scientists from Tomsk State University, 150 tons of fertile soil per square kilometer are destroyed in Khakassia every year.

"Forest belts have always been a way to protect agricultural fields in the region, — says Alexander Samoylov, one of the developers of the new technology, specialist of the Biological Institute, Tomsk State University. — However, forest belts fell into severe disrepair after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In conditions of water shortage, forest belts can be rapidly restored by using the cryogel".

The cryogel is a polymer substance developed by Siberian scientists (Institute of Petroleum Chemistry, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Tomsk). Freeze-thaw cycles improve its properties making it more durable and resilient, as well as improving its adherence to the soil. The cryogel is resistant to water, microorganisms and vibrations. It is designed to improve the condition of dams, oil wells, railroads and highways in low-temperature environments.

Specialists from the Biological Institute, Tomsk State University, used a cryogel based on a chemically inert and biologically neutral polymer. When applied to the top layer of the soil, the cryogel binds particles of the top fertile layer into the matrix. As a result of the treatment, the scientists produced a structure strong enough to withstand erosion without inhibiting the growth of plants.

In May 2015, the Tomsk scientists treated several areas prone to erosion with the cryogel. They seeded the land with a grass mix and planted cedar trees. A few months later, the biologists evaluated the results. According to Oleg Merzlyakov, specialist of the Biological Institute at the Tomsk State University, the structure and the microbiological condition of the soil in the treated areas, and the ability of all plant species to take root in this soil improved significantly.

In the future, the cryogel-based technology can be used for landscaping northern regions and strengthening the soil prone to water erosion, e.g. for preventing a collapse of land along the shore of water bodies in all low-temperature regions.

Find out more about Tomsk State University:

TSU official webpage 
Tomsk Uni twitter 
TSU on Facebook

A Siberian university aims to become a global player by Stephen Hoare

Can an open-air lab tempt you to Siberia? An article about TSU by Stephen Hoare in Times Higher Education

Tomsk State University (TSU) was founded in 1878. It is located in Tomsk, a unique Russian city with a half-million population, whose life is built around seven major universities, hundreds of innovative enterprises, and a variety of technology parks. TSU is the center of this city – Siberia’s research capital.

As a universal institution of higher education, TSU offers students and researchers over 200 areas of specialization and study ranging from opera through robotics to meteorology and space technology. At TSU, traditionally strong schools such as the schools of law, linguistics and management (including MBA) are combined with TSU’s areas of particular research excellence including research into new materials, e. g. for medicine and space technology, twin studies, multi-dimentional swamp studies (TSU is situated on the edge of the Vasyugan Swamp, the world’s biggest swamp), and botanical studies (TSU’s botanic garden is one of the biggest and oldest botanic gardens in Russia).

The TSU campus is home to over 20,000 students including 1,000 students from other countries. TSU attracts many students from Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Mongolia and China. However, if you go the university’s 100-year-old library, you will also see students from Western Europe, e. g. Germany and the UK, searching information for their Master’s program in the library’s collection, which includes about 4 million catalogued items.

TSU is a typical European university, and like other universities, it builds connections with universities in Germany, the UK, Holland, Sweden, France and China. Nevertheless, Tomsk State University, or simply Tomsk Uni, is almost unknown to Europe outside the walls of research centers. However, this is not forever. Like other Russian universities, TSU welcomes Western researchers and students, giving them carte blanche to conduct virtually any research. The absence of strict constraints and the wide array of research areas make TSU a place of research freedom. TSU believes that after six years one in ten researchers at TSU will be foreigners.