Oral history of British science

Jenkinson, David (Part 6 of 7). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Climate Change Science

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee’s home, Hertfordshire

  • Interviewees

    Jenkinson, David, 1928-2011 (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 6: Mentions memory: seeing oats ground by old water mill with grandfather. [00:48] Story of calculating soil carbon turnover times using calculator in mid 1970s; computers were becoming smaller and more directly accessible; decision to collaborate in making carbon turnover model named ROTH C with friend and colleague, James Rayner [JR], computer modeller at RES. Description of experimental measurements used in constructing ROTH C. Mentions ‘writing’ of model by JR. Detailed comments on devising of model that would run using readily available data: mean monthly temperatures, monthly evapotranspiration, monthly rainfall; decision to use clay content rather than ‘cation exchange capacity’. Mentions first version ROTH C published 1977, reprinted recently as ‘classic’ in ‘Soil Science’. [04:56] Mentions improvements to and use of ROTH C; recent application for thousandth’s licence. Comments on updated version of ROTH C, late 1980s, with Lynn Parry [LP], Kevin Coleman [KC] and Phil Hart [PH], New Zealand PhD student, published in conference proceedings; 1999 update of ROTH C with KC; current work on new version; age of ROTH C and success in relation to other carbon turnover models, compared by colleague Pete Smith [PS]; view of status of ROTH C. Mentions current job cuts at Rothamsted; death of JR in 1988. Positive comments on JR as colleague, mathematician and modeller. Comments on plan to set up consultancy called ‘Harpenden Models’ with JR. [09:53] Description and discussion of initial work for ROTH C using hand calculator to calculate annual input of labelled carbon from thermonuclear tests to soil in unmanured Broadbalk wheat plot. [12:42] Comments on JR’s research interests in Pedology department pre ROTH C. Mentions JR’s clumsiness in experimental work; computers used by JR; presence at RES of mainframe computers from early 1950s. Comments on demand for computers from statistics department at RES; JR’s academic background. [14:40] Comments on dependence on others, especially JR and LP to carry out computing for ROTH C; value of speed of calculation offered by computers; LP, JR’s assistant; working relations between LP and JR; LP’s role in second version of ROTH C; PH role in ROTH C, subsequent career, working relations with LP. [18:20] Detailed description of process of constructing ROTH C model in relation to ‘preconceived’ understanding of decomposition of plant material in soil, using simplified assumptions; process of adjusting model’s parameters in relation to its predictions derived from data inputted for known sites. Discussion of process of adjusting parameters of ROTH C. Comments on data used to calibrate ROTH C, notably that derived from long term experiments on light sandy soil at RES’s Woburn farm; lack of long term experimental data. [23:30] Comments on 1999 version of ROTH C improved in terms of its user friendliness; 1989 alterations, notably combining of compartments for data on ‘chemically’ and ‘physically’ stabilised organic matter, due to lack of data to justify this separation, in place introducing a new compartment containing ancient, inert fraction. Mentions US ‘Century’ model based on first version of ROTH C, ignoring later modifications. Comments on current modifications concerning weather, especially soil water content in relation to balance of rainfall and evapotranspiration; use of monthly time step. [26:51] Mentions on lack of awareness of feedback on ROTH C as managed by KC. Brief description of data inputs to ROTH C. Discussion of inputs. Comments on 1999 version of ROTH C; need for computer literacy in using earlier versions of ROTH C; conversations with JR in making ROTH C; judging success of early model by examining output on paper rolls; closeness of collaboration with JR. [33:12] Detailed comments on comparison of ROTH C with other carbon models by PS. [36:01] Description of year in Australia as Hannaford Research Fellow in Department of Agricultural Biochemistry and Soil Science, Waite Agricultural Research Institute [WARI], Adelaide, including research interests with Malcolm Oades [MO], travel with family. Story of wife abandoning car on roundabout in Canberra while DJ working. [38:20] Comments on seeing examples of Australian agriculture, meeting Australian soil scientists, including Jeff Ladd. Comments on visit to New Zealand; techniques for measuring ATP content of soil at WARI; mentions advice of DJD Nicholas, Departmental Head, WARI; long-term dryland experiments at WARI; GL’s dryland field experiments using labelled carbon and nitrogen, including use in development of ROTH C. [42:36] Comments on difficulties of combining family life and scientific career. Story of twin sons rally driving in Adelaide hills and one being caught in bumper; sons trapped in underground cave with venture scouts. Comments on wife’s teaching work and friendships in Australia. Story of youngest son’s diagnosis of dyslexia by Australian school. Comments on family’s view of DJ’s work. Story of wife and children stuck in caravan in rain while DJ gave scientific paper; family collecting amethysts in an Australian river. Comments on relative difficulty of Australian trip for DJ wife, separated from friends at home. [48:00] Comments on domestic tensions caused by preoccupation with work.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor David Jenkinson, soil scientist

  • Related transcripts

    David Jenkinson interviewed by Paul Merchant: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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