Group leaders

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Dr. Johan Six

ETH - Sustainable Agroecosystems, Group leader

Dr. Six received his PhD in Soil Science in 1998 from Colorado State University. His PhD research was conducted at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL). His research focused on the mechanisms underlying greenhouse gas mitigation by no-tillage practices. Dr. Six remained as a Research Scientist at NREL from 1998 until 2002. He led and was involved in many projects investigating the effect of land use change and management on greenhouse gas fluxes in agricultural, grassland and forest ecosystems. At UCDavis (2002-2012), Dr. Six further developed this line of research with a focus on the feedbacks between ecosystem management options (e.g., tillage, cover cropping, green manuring, sustainable farming, and grazing), global change (e.g., elevated CO2 and climate change), and biogeochemical cycling. Since 2013, Dr. Six is the chair of the Sustainable Agroecosystems Group at ETH-Zurich, where he has continued the research program developed at UCDavis, but with more of an emphasis on landscape analyses and global Food Security. More specifically, he studies the complex interactions between soil (e.g, structure, texture and mineralogy), plants (e.g., diversity, nutrient uptake, and root growth), soil biota (e.g. fungi, bacteria, and earthworms), and the carbon and nitrogen cycles in terrestrial ecosystems, especially agroecosystems. His general approach is to conduct experimental work from the micro- to landscape scale and subsequently integrate it with modeling to interpolate and extrapolate it to the regional and global scale. The modeling has also as goals to identify gaps in our knowledge, generate testable hypotheses, and test the mechanistic bases of biogeochemical models. Furthermore, bio-economic modeling is conducted in collaboration with economic and social scientist to holistically assess the sustainability and resilience of agriculture and food value chains.

Dr. Six is a Chancelor’s Fellow of the University of California – Davis, a Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Philippe Duchaufour medallist in Soil Science of the European Geoscience Union, a Distinguished Ecologist of Colorado State University, and on the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Highly Cited Researchers list of the Web of Science.

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Dr. Kristof Van Oost

TECLIM, Group leader

Kristof Van Oost studied Physical Geography (Master, 1997). He obtained a PhD on spatial modelling of soil redistribution processes in 2003 (KULeuven, supervisor Prof. G. Govers). After his PhD, Kristof Van Oost was a EU Marie-Curie fellow at the Earth Surface Processes Research group of the University of Exeter (UK) for two years and specialised in soil biogeochemical modelling. Since 2007, Kristof Van Oost is a Research associate of the FNRW (Since 2015 Senior Research Associate) and Professor at Université catholique de Louvain, affiliated to the Earth & Life Institute, Faculty of Sciences. He is lecturer of “GIS and Geo-processing”, “Field methods in Geography” and “Applied Geomorphology”

 K Van Oost has investigated the processes of soil nutrient and C cycling, by elucidating the interplay between transfer and transformation processes in determining the composition and ultimate fate of particulate carbon within river catchments. His current work is based on three pillars: (i) the development, testing and integration of new methodological approaches based on sensing technologies (including drones); (ii) process understanding based on targeted measurements of fluxes and transformations, mainly in relation to human activities, using spatially nested approaches and (iii) to integrate these advances in the development, evaluation and application of modeling tools from local to global scales and as Soil-Geomorphology interfaces for Earth System Models. K. Van Oost has a global focus but has carried out field research in various ecosystems worldwide: Brasil, China, South-Africa, Europe and DR Congo.


Dr. Pascal Boeckx

ISOFYS, Group leader

Pascal Boeckx is full professor at Ghent University and head of the Isotope Bioscience laboratory – ISOFYS. He holds a PhD in Applied Biological Sciences (1998, Ghent University), an MSc in Environmental Sanitation (1992, Ghent University) and an MSc in Bioscience Engineering (1991, Ghent University). His research is oriented towards a wide range of stable isotope applications and analyses. He has a key interest in biogeochemistry, climate change, ecosystem functioning and integrated soil fertility management. 


Dr. Robert Spencer

Spencer Biogeochemistry Lab, Group leader

Research in my laboratory is focused on understanding the chemical composition of Earth’s major carbon reservoirs (soils, sediments and dissolved organic matter (DOM) in marine and terrestrial ecosystems), and how this controls movement between these reservoirs and the atmosphere. These major reservoirs can vary between carbon dioxide source or sink with respect to the atmosphere in a changing climate and due to anthropogenic impacts. We work across a range of scales from global to molecular level and a wide variety of environments from the Arctic to the tropics. Application and development of a range of analytical techniques is undertaken in the laboratory and field centered on organic geochemistry, but encompassing methodology from oceanography, hydrology, microbiology and soil science.


Dr. Sebastian Doetterl

TropSOC, Group leader


I am a Geographer with emphasis on Soils Science, Plant Ecology and Geomorphology. I am an Assistant Professor for Soil Resources at ETH Zurich's Department of Environmental Systems Science and group leader of the DFG funded Emmy Noether research group TROPSOC. I did my PhD on the effects of soil erosion on soil carbon dynamics at different temporal and spatial scales. I apply both experimental and modeling approaches in my research. My interests focus on the connections and feedbacks between different environmental cycles in soils (C-N-P Dynamics) and how human activities and Global Change influence these cycles and soils as a resource. TROPSOC focuses on tropical soil organic carbon dynamics along erosional disturbance gradients in relation to soil geochemistry and land use. The main objective of the proposed TROPSOC project is to develop a mechanistic understanding of C sequestration and release in the soils of Tropical Africa, studied in the Eastern part of the Congo Basin.