An Interview with Eoin Brodie and Myriam Schmutz (FBF 2021)

July 3, 2023

The wine industry is a major economic asset of California and Bordeaux, which are widely considered among the finest and most qualitative wine regions in the world. Yet, the current climate change transforms the soil quality and could affect future wine production. That is what pushed both Eoin Brodie (Deputy Director of the Climate and Ecosystems Sciences Division of the Berkeley Lab) and Myriam Schmutz (Full Professor at the Institut National Polytechnique of Bordeaux) to focus on a comparative analysis of the biogeophysics of the Californian and Bordeaux wine regions. We sat down with them to learn more about the motivations behind their project, what their research consists of, and what opportunities the France-Berkeley Fund gave them.

Myriam SchmutzEoin Brodie

Can you both introduce yourselves and talk about your academic journeys that lead you to this project?

Eoin Brodie: I'm Eoin Brodie, I'm originally from Dublin, Ireland - I received my PhD in soil microbial ecology from University College Dublin and then came to Berkeley, CA for postdoc training. I enjoyed Berkeley so much I've been here for over 20 years!! I am an Associate Adjunct Professor in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley, and my main appointment is at Berkeley Lab, a Department of Energy National Laboratory, located just up the hill from the UC Berkeley campus. At Berkeley Lab, I am the Deputy Director of the Climate and Ecosystems Sciences Division, in our Earth and Environmental Sciences Area.

Myriam Schmutz: I’m Myriam Schmutz, I’m from Strasbourg, France, where I did my education, including my PhD in geophysics. Since 2013, I've been Full Professor in the Institut National Polytechnique of Bordeaux. Currently, I’m co-responsible for a team of the EPOC research unit. I’ve been working for about 15 years with the Induced Polarization method, on mechanistic models’ development, as well as on field and laboratory methodology development. This has led to the understanding that this specified method is powerfulto be able to characterize soil properties, as well as plant/soil interactions.

What made you interested in biogeophysics, especially in the domain of viticulture? How and why did you decide to work together on your research?

EB: I study soils, their microbial communities and the biogeochemical cycles they mediate, particularly how plants, soils, and microbes work together in natural and managed ecosystems.Biogeophysics is the integration of biological and geophysical research, and explores the use of geophysical tools to understand how biology interacts with the physical and chemical world. To me, this merger of disciplines is exciting because it allows us to understand how landscape evolution or change due to land management for example, is associated with the functioning of soil microbes and their impact on important biogeochemical processes.

MS: I study near surface related topics, and I'd noticed that the geophysical signals and models cannot be fully explained only with physico-chemical properties. That’s why we considered that the biological part might have a significant impact on the signals we are measuring in geophysics. Moreover, the biologists, or microbiologists are generally using very precise and essential punctual information, but that does not allow them to fully understand the soil’s heterogeneity. Besides, I participated in a microbiological project in Bordeaux where some geophysics was included. We successfully showed the ability of the Induced Polarization method to monitor vine growing in a controlled laboratory experiment. Finally, I got a Fulbright grant allowing me to visit Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for 7 months in 2020, that allowed me to interact with many collaborators there.

Can you explain a bit more in detail what your research focuses on?

EB: Our research together focuses on vineyard soil health and crop yield and quality, by better understanding the impacts of soil management and climate change on soil health in vineyards we hope to provide new information and tools that will help land managers create resilient soils that continue to function productively in the face of environmental stresses.

What are the next steps within your research?

EB: We are working together on a set of vineyards in Bordeaux where we hope to understand how historical land management and climate change interact to affect soil health and crop production. A scientist from our team at Berkeley Lab, Dr. Nicola Falco, is an expert in remote sensing, and he will travel to Bordeaux soon to collaborate with Dr. Schmutz and her team to explore how spectral signatures of vine leaves can be used to interpret soil physical, chemical and biological properties - really using the vines themselves as soil sensors.

What are the reasons that pushed you to apply for the FBF (France-Berkeley Fund)?

EB: There is a long history of collaborative wine production between California and Southern France, and we share challenges in terms of climate change and soil degradation. This seed fund provides a great opportunity to share knowledge and build partnerships that we hope to expand on.

MS: Also, Susan Hubbard, Yuxin Wu, Eoin Brodie and Myriam Schmutz initiated a collaboration in 2015 between LBNL and Institut National Polytechnique of Bordeaux.

What has the FBF done for your research? What type of opportunities did it open for you?

EB: It has allowed us to build personal connections with researchers across our organizations, identify common goals, and to formally collaborate on understanding factors controlling soil health in vineyards. Following this summer's research visit to Bordeaux, we will target additional funding opportunities to continue our collaboration.

We want to thank both Eoin Brodie and Myriam Schmutz for their time to answer our questions, wish them all luck for the rest of their study.