Caring about the future

Frank G.A. Verheijen

Frank G.A. Verheijen

Auxiliary Researcher - CEEC FCT

  • Author Name : Verheijen F.G.A.

  • Researcher ID: F-5381-2011
  • ORCID: 0000-0001-6741-4249
  • Ciencia ID: 171C-07F7-FA96
  • Department: Environment and Planning
  • Research Group: Socio-Ecological Systems Analysis, Management & Planning (SES)
  • ISI Web of KnowledgeSM search factor: AU=Verheijen,Frank G.A.; Web of Science ResearcherID: F-5381-2011; SCOPUS ID: 8632508600; Google Scholar ID: KgWniwEAAAAJ

Research interests

I am a physical geographer and received my PhD in soil science at the National Soil Resources Institute, Cranfield university, UK, in 2006. I am an auxiliary researcher (CEEC), awarded by the National Science Foundation (FCT), at the University of Aveiro, Portugal. My research focuses on SOIL ORGANIC MATTER, how to manage it, and how it interacts with the wider environment. Specifically, I focus on how SOIL MANAGEMENT can improve ECOSYSTEM SERVICES, in particular elucidating positive as well as negative effects of biochar in soil, and identifying trade-offs in order to build a SUSTAINABLE BIOCHAR system.

My discoveries exposed the marginal extent of on-farm benefits from increased SOC contents and SOM management in temperate England and Wales, revealed strong crop yield responses to biochar in the tropics, and quantified a substantial biochar improvement on the soil sponge function - and reduction in erosion - for Mediterranean soils at risk of desertification. I received the 2017 Research Day award from the University of Aveiro "in recognition of the significance and quality of the research developed at the UA". In addition to research, I also worked for 5 years in scientific support for policy, which included leading a Scientific and Technical Report of the European Commission on biochar (cited 1,500 times), organising an "EU side-event" at the COP15 in Copenhagen, and facilitating a biochar discussion at the Bill & Melinda gates Foundation in Seattle, USA. Before my current position, I was awarded two postdoc fellowships by the FCT (Aveiro University), I was a grantholder at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, a peatland project postdoc at Queen Mary University of London, and a soil monitoring project postdoc at Cranfield University UK.

I am the Portuguese lead for one international project on soil organic carbon sequestration, the leader of a Portuguese project on biochar and the soil sponge function, the co-PI of a Portuguese Project on biochar and pollinators, and the Aveiro lead of a Portuguese project on using biochar to restore degraded olive orchard soils. And I am the co-founder and co-coordinator of the Biochar, Agro-ecology and Regenerative Agriculture (BIOCHARCOLOGY) team:

Academic degrees

Ph.D. (2002-2005). National Soil Resources Institute, Cranfield University, UK. Funded by the UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Supervisor: Professor Mark Kibblewhite.

M.Sc. in Physical Geography (2001). University of Amsterdam The Netherlands. Supervisor: Dr. Erik Cammeraat.

Scientific activities

July 2020 - present auxiliary researcher - CEEC FCT (CEECIND/02509/2018). SOILCOMBAT aims to engineer the sponge function of Portuguese soils to sustainably combat desertification
January 2019 - June 2020 Auxiliary researcher at the University of Aveiro (Decree-Law 57/2016 Art.23rd - Transitional Rule).
September 2016 - January 2019 Postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Aveiro funded by the FCT (SFRH/BPD/107913/2015)
June 2011 - August 2016 Postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Aveiro funded by the FCT (SFRH/BPD/74108/2010)
October 2008 - May 2011 Postdoctoral researcher (grantholder) at the Institute of Environment and Sustainability of the Joint Research Centre (European Commission), Ispra, Italy.
December 2007 - October 2008 Postdoctoral researcher at Queen Mary University of London on NERC-funded project.
February 2006 - November 2007 Postdoctoral researcher at Cranfield University on the ENVASSO project (€2 million; EC contract no. 022713-STP).



SOLVO - Solutions to restore degraded Soils in mediterranean OLive orchards Via Organic mulch and biochar from olive industry waste See more

TRUESOIL - True SOC sequestration: understanding trade-offs and dynamic interactions between SOC stocks and GHG emissions for climate-smart agri-soil management See more

POLLINATE - Can biochar-engineered soils boost habitat use for pollinators in Portuguese sown biodiverse pastures? See more

SOILCOMBAT - Engineering the sponge function of Portuguese pasture soils to sustainably combat desertification See more

BioValChar - Sustainable valorisation of residual biomass for biochar See more

FIRE-C-BUDs - Indirect effects of wildfire (severity) on carbon fluxes and budgets See more

MASCC – Mediterranean Agricultural Soils Conservation under global Change See more

EXPLOCHAR: Exploring mechanisms of reducing drought and disease stress in eucalypt seedlings by applying biochar to soils See more

RECARE - Preventing and Remediating degradation of soils in Europe through Land See more

CASCADE - CAtastrophic Shifts in drylands: how CAn we prevent ecosystem DEgradation See more

FIREREG – Factors affecting the post-fire natural regeneration variability in Pinus pinaster and Eucalyptus globulus in Portugal See more

Scientific Supervision

Master (Main Supervisor): Marie van Hoeyweghen (not a CESAM member)

PhD (Main Supervisor): Behrouz Gholamahmadi (CESAM member)

Master (Main Supervisor): Sami Ul-Haq (not a CESAM member)

Master (Main Supervisor): Suyan Isaka (not a CESAM member)

Master (Main Supervisor): Anselme Haugou (not a CESAM member)

Master (Co-supervisor): Henrique Balona de Sá Oliveira (not a CESAM member)

Master (Co-supervisor): Sara Raquel Amaral Mesquita (not a CESAM member)

Short Term Scientific Mission to Volcani Center, Israel (COST-STSM-TD1107-14012) (Main Supervisor): Martinho António Santos Martins (CESAM member)

Short Term Scientific Mission of visiting scientist from the Volcani Center, Israel (COST-STSM-TD1107-21624) (Main Supervisor): Anna Zhuravel (not a CESAM member)

BSc (Co-supervisor): Doris Hassink (not a CESAM member)

BSc (Co-supervisor): Hugo Braas (not a CESAM member)

BSc (Co-supervisor): Harmen Stap (not a CESAM member)

PhD (Co-supervisor): Marija Prodana (CESAM member)

Selected Highlights

  • I have co-founded the Biochar, Agro-ecology and Regnerative Agriculture (BIOCHARCOLOGY) team:

  • My biochar research findings - with colleagues - were used in the 2019 IPCC report “Climate Change and Land”, with 8 citations in 3 chapters, including our results on surface albedo and CH4 emissions, as well as an explicit mention of our global crop yield results in the Summary for Policy Makers.

  • I received the 2017 Research Day award from the University of Aveiro "in recognition of the significance and quality of the research developed at the UA".

  • I was the senior researcher on a major meta-analytical review that showed biochar to boost crop yield in the tropics but not in the temperate zone

  • I was awarded Researcher of the Month for April 2016 at the University of Aveiro. Read the accompanying interview here.

  • With my co-authors, I contributed to the discourse on soil policy with a correspondence in Nature magazine.

  • With my co-authors, I published a book chapter in the 2nd edition of 'Biochar for Environmental Management', edited by Johannes Lehmann & Stephen Joseph. The chapter is titled 'Biochar Sustainability and Certification' and outlines a concept of how sustainable biochar would need to be certified both from the production perspective as well as the environmental application perspective.

  • I published a review on tolerable soil erosion in EARTH-SCIENCE REVIEWS. With my co-authors we reviewed the definitions of 'tolerable soil erosion' and extensively reviewed the literature to derive soil formation rates, including dust deposition (to an extent), as a basis for defining tolerable soil erosion rates in Europe.

Postgraduate lecturing & examinations

  • Opponent and member of thesis committee of Martinho Martins, Aveiro University, 25-07-2022. Thesis title: "FORFUN - Integrated impact assessment of terrace construction on FORest soil FUNctions".

  • Opponent and member of thesis committee of Renske Hijbeek, Wageningen University, 03-10-2017. Thesis title: "On the role of soil organic matter for crop production in European arable farming".

  • Lecture for postgraduate course (programa doctoral), DAO, UA, 03-04-2017, titled "Soil Management".

  • Lecture for postgraduate course (programa doctoral), DAO, UA, 14-12-2012, titled "Introduction to biochar".

  • Lecture at 1st international Summer School on biochar "Bio:char crossroads", 9-16 September 2012, titled "Comparing results from studies of biochar effects".

Organisation of scientific meetings

In June 2014, together with Ana Catarina Bastos, I organised a 2-day, joined WG2 & WG4 meeting for the COST Action TD1107 (Biochar as option for sustainable resource management), titled 'Biochar: on the path to the required level of scientific understanding'. Forty scientists participated in thematic groups. The outcome is published in a special issue.

convened a symposium at EUROSOIL2012 titled 'Effects of Biochar on Soil Properties, Processes and Functions' (S5.3). Here we brought together leading scientists from across the world to present their latest results. A total of 85 oral and poster presentations were made, constituting the third largest session at the conference after the classical sessions on soil erosion and soil organic matter.

I organised an EU side-event on biochar at the COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a well-attended event, chaired by Luca Montanarella (JRC) with presentations by Johannes Lehmann (Cornell University), Saran Sohi (University of Edinburgh), and me. I presented on biochar effects on soils, including important knowledge gaps (see presentation here), and published a major JRC (European Commission) report on biochar.

Networks & Committees

October 2017-present:
I joined the International Biochar Initiative's new and independent Scientific Committee whose mission is to "critically assess and synthesize the scientific literature regarding the interactions between biochar and soils, the wider environment, and human health, and to provide an interface between science and the general public where the science is explained in a transparent and balanced way using broadly accessible language". The Science Committee is made up of 16 scientists from across the world.

March 2012:
COST Action TD1107 ‘Biochar as option for sustainable resource management’. I was the national representative of Portugal for this COST Action, which connected scattered European Biochar research to enable quick implementation of intelligent material flow management systems, to maintain or improve soil quality while efficiently sequestering carbon in the long-term. The Action aimed at coordinating European Biochar research, bringing together researchers, stakeholders and potential users from EU and candidate countries.
I was the leader of WG2 'Land Use Management', which compared Biochar's effects along Trans-European climatic gradients based on meta data.

August 2012-present:
Launch of the Biochar Investigation Network of Portugal (BINP). The mission of BINP is to bring together people involved in biochar research and production in Portugal, to facilitate collaborations by providing a platform for networking, to disseminate national and international biochar news, funding opportunities, conferences and workshops.

Postdoctoral research experience

01-07-2020 - present University of Aveiro, Portugal
CEEC FCT (CEECIND/02509/2018). SOILCOMBAT aims to engineer the sponge function of Portuguese soils to sustainably combat desertification.
31-01-2019 - 30-06-2020 University of Aveiro, Portugal
Auxiliary Researcher in the area of Environment and Agriculture on the topic of Sustainable Management of Soil and Organic Matter Resources.
01-09-2016 - 30-01-2019 University of Aveiro, Portugal
Postdoctoral research fellow funded by the FCT (SFRH/BPD/107913/2015) on the topic: Increasing Soil Resilience with Waste-derived Biochar – adapting Portuguese Soils to Climate Change (SoilRes).
01-06-2011 - 31-08-2016 University of Aveiro, Portugal
Postdoctoral research fellow funded by the FCT (SFRH/BPD/74108/2010) on the topic: Soil Erosion and Production After Biochar Application. Achievements included: the first biochar and crop yield meta-analysis; installation of the first biochar vineyard field experiment in Portugal; start and completion of the first biochar project funded by the FCT (EXPLOCHAR); the first experimental study on biochar and soil surface albedo; the first biochar wind erosion study; two book chapters in the 'biochar bible'; an authored section in the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas; Steering Committee membership and working group leader (group 2 'land use management') for the biochar COST action TD1107; biochar soil erosion study in collaboration with the Volcani Centre in Israel.
15-10-2008 - 15-05-2011 European Commission, JRC Italy 
Postdoctoral researcher (grantholder) at the Institute of Environment and Sustainability of the Joint Research Centre (European Commission), Ispra, Italy. Responsible for the JRC deliverables in the iSOIL project (Interactions between soil related sciences - linking geophysics, soil science and digital soil mapping; FP7; €3.4 million). Initiated a major critical scientific review of biochar application to soils, leading and managing an interdisciplinary team of researchers to produce a peer-reviewed JRC Scientific & Technical Report, including a quantitative meta-analysis between biochar and crop production. This report has received international recognition leading to a role as one of the global experts on biochar, which is reflected in invited roles at a number of major biochar meetings.
01-12-2007 - 14-10-2008 Queen Mary, University of London UK
Postdoctoral researcher on NERC-funded project ‘The effects of fire on peatland carbon stocks and dynamics'. Duties include: installation and maintenance of long term monitoring plots at remote field site in SW Scotland (hydrological, meteorological, vegetation, microbial, chemical and physical soil properties); day to day project management; remote sensing at micro and meso scale; FTIR analyses; molecular biology analyses; microbial activity analyses; Black Carbon analyses.
15-02-2006 - 30-11-2007 Cranfield University UK
Postdoctoral researcher on the ENVASSO project (€2 million; EC contract no. 022713-STP), which aimed to harmonise EU soil monitoring. Duties included: delivering expertise to project consortium on the soil threats ‘soil erosion', ‘soil organic matter decline', and desertification as well as designing and writing a ‘glossary of key terms for soil monitoring' (cooperating with ISO), running workshops for the UK soil policy arena, and reviewing project reports.

Metrics & links

Key words: soil erosion; soil organic matter; biochar; soil hydrology; meta-analysis; soil-based ecosystem services

Total citations: 8,202 (Google Scholar Citations); 3,715 (SCOPUS); 6,050 (Researchgate)

Citation per article (average) in ISI journals: 90 (SCOPUS)

H-index: 29 (Google Scholar Citations); 25 (ResearchGate); 20 (Web of Science/Scopus)

Citation network: > 40 countries; all continents except Antarctica (see image)

Links: ResearchGateORCIDLinkedInResearcherID 

Reviewing & Editing Activities

I have reviewed manuscripts for the journals, among others: Nature Geoscience, GLobal Change Biology, Catena, Geoderma, Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment, Plant & Soil, Soil Science Society of America Journal, European Journal of Soil Science, Soil Use & Management, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, Environmental Science & Technology, Fuel, Journal of Agricultural Biotechnology and Sustainable Development, Carbon, Carbon Management, Environmental Research Letters, the Irish Geographical Society, Journal of Environmental Management, Soil Biology & Biochemistry, Science of the Total Environment, Journal of Environmental Quality.

I have reviewed project proposals for the European Commission (H2020 and Horizon Europe), PRIMA, the Research Foundation of Flanders (FWO), the Czech Republic EEA call ‘Norway Grants (Norwegian Financial mechanism 2009-2014)', the Polish national science centre, and the French Environment and Energy Agency (ADEME): Nouvel appel à projets R&D: APR REACCTIF REcherche sur l'Atténuation du Changement ClimaTique par l'agrIculture et la Forêt.
I evaluated a PhD proposal submitted to Expeer, a major European Infrastructure project (2010-2014) in the field of Ecosystem Research.

I have served as a monitor for the evaluation of the h2020 project CIRCASA's final technical report.

- I am a review editor on the Editorial Board of Waste Management in Agroecosystems (specialty section of Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems).
- I was the leading Guest Editor for a special issue of the European Journal of Soil Science (Volume 65, Issue 1, Pages 1–195): "Biochar in soils: new insights". "The sixteen accepted manuscripts submitted from Africa, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, Europe, North and Latin America and the Middle East, describe the latest findings on how biochar affects auto- and heterotrophic soil respiration, nutrient dynamics, sorption of soil contaminants, water dynamics, redox reactions, and rhizosphere interactions."

- I was a guest editor for a special issue of the Journal of Soils and Sediments (Volume 15, Issue 4, Pages 745-1038): "Impact of Natural and Anthropogenic Pyrogenic Carbon in Soils and Sediments", featuring 27 articles from across the world.

CESAM Funding: UIDP/50017/2020 + UIDB/50017/2020 + LA/P/0094/2020


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