Melissa ATWELL, PhD Student in Environmental Science, Soil Science, Geography and Sustainable Natural Resource Management (Trinidad and Tobago)

In her cross-disciplinary research, Melissa Atwell focuses on climate change, environmental management, agriculture, structural engineering and both human and urban geography. She aims to help develop methods for soil ecosystem valuation and prediction based on current land use trends.


Research focus: sustainable management of soil's ecosystem services and its resilience in the face of increased population pressures and climate change

Soil ecosystems are highly valuable. They provide multiple benefits to society including nutrient cycling, water relations, physical stability and habitats. The preservation of these ecosystems is essential. Without integrating ecological conservation and sustainability into land use planning activities, there will be a decline in human wellbeing as a result of reduced food, fresh water, livelihood security and greater economic losses due to natural disasters.

In her research, Atwell aims to expand the body of knowledge on soil ecosystem services focusing on evaluating the soil’s natural capital (such as soil carbon content, soil salinity and soil pH) under different land uses in humid tropical savannahs. Her objective is to help prevent soil degradation, advise decision makers in tropical regions and in small island states with policy development and predict future trends for the improvement of sustainable adaptation strategies to climate change. She asserts, ‘Understanding the critical processes that exist, and the impacts of human development on these soil processes can aid future land management globally for the determination of best sites for industries, residential and agricultural areas.’

Atwell holds a BSc in environmental science, MPhil in geography, specializing in soil science and sustainable natural resource management from the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago and is currently a PhD candidate at the same institution. Due to her outstanding academic performance, she received a research grant from her university. She also won the 3rd Prize for her oral presentation on wetland soils at the ASA, CSSA, SSSA Annual General Meeting in the United States and received 1st place for her poster presentation at the research symposium for the International Year of Biodiversity in Trinidad and Tobago.

The jury was impressed by the global significance of Atwell’s research. The jury also valued her outstanding academic record reflected by numerous scientific publications in international journals. The forum will give Atwell the opportunity to exchange ideas with likeminded professionals, receive constructive criticism and feedback and acquire more knowledge in her scientific field.