Capability building - Anne Wecking
Anne’s Fascination with Science Now Focusses on Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
Fascination with the outdoors – a trait instilled by her grandfather – is still with Anne Wecking today, and is still driving her onwards in her work with soil science.
Born and raised in Dorsten, northern Germany, a small town on the rural fringe of an area once famous for its coal mining and steel production, she and her two brothers were always playing outside with the neighbourhood kids learning about their natural surroundings.
“In my view, fascination is the precondition for an interest in science and, later on, an overall scientific understanding.”
“In my younger years, my granddad taught me to keep this fascination alive, to ask for answers and to always be stunned by life around me. I have kept this fasciation until now.”
Indeed, fascination with science has led Anne to diverse parts of the world, including living in rural Mongolia, before her current PhD degree study at the University of Waikato where she researches paddock-scale N2O emissions from grazed pastures, funded by the University of Waikato NZAGRC Doctoral Scholarship.
Work in Mongolia on managing forest ecosystems and the crucial role of soil came during her MSc studies for Leibniz Universität Hannover in Germany, between 2014 and 2017. The project focused on identifying the value of forest soils for plant nutrition to advance forest management.
Prior to that, Anne’s travels had taken her to England, studying glaciology and fluvial systems.
“Initially, my decision to study physical geography (BSc) was guided by the idea to further understand earth surface-related processes at the interface of natural to social science. Quickly, this idea became a fundamental theme in my life – to explore and to discover, to dream and to understand,” she says.
“Studying geography satisfied this need as did an apprenticeship at a journalism academy in Munich parallel to my bachelor studies. I moved on, more focused on soil science in my MSc studies, after I was given the chance to study in England and to gain internship experience at AgResearch in Palmerston North.”
Hours of fieldwork spent on a farm in the Manawatu initiated a process which, two years later, made her decide to start a PhD and to return to New Zealand.
It also brought some “Eureka!” moments … “Quite distinctly I remember the moment at which I finally understood photosynthesis, decomposition/mineralisation of organic matter and microbial respiration in the soil to be part of the same game, the carbon cycle.”
“Ever since, I have been fascinated by the complexity of soils and all biogeochemical processes related with soil functioning.”
Anne’s current work falls under the NZAGRC’s Plants and Greenhouse Gases research programme which focusses on three key areas:
- Identifying and prioritising plant traits for low greenhouse gas emissions;
- Mitigation practices to maintain soil carbon and reduce N2O emissions at paddock scale; and
- Defining the achievable soil carbon stabilisation capacity of New Zealand grassland soils.
Under the supervision of Professor Louis Schipper, Anne has worked with the Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL) to collect continuous and precise data about the amount of N2O and methane present in the atmosphere near the soil surface.
Transparency is very important to Anne whereby she states "the intention would be to communicate science in a very clear, precise and understandable way. I aspire to spread the fascination for science and the living environment in the same way that I experienced when I was young."
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