My Background

I’ve been in so many soil pits I can’t remember exactly where this was taken. My guess is somewhere along the Oregon coast range. In hindsight, I doubt this was OSHA approved. Still fun though.
Picture Credit - Jeff Hatten (I think)

I grew up along California’s San Juaquin Delta, in the shadow of a Chevron oil refinery. Luckily, I had parents who thought it was cool to hike miles into the Sierra Nevada mountains, poop in holes you frantically dug, and sleep on the ground for fun! (aka backpacking) I was fascinated by how those huge pine trees seemingly grew out of pure granite rock. But the dichotomy of drinking sweet water from alpine lakes for vacations and returning to the “no swimming” Delta waters in my backyard was a bit confusing. That whiplash continues to shape my path today.

I studied soil science and geology at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where I spent as much time outside hammering rocks as I did inside analyzing soils. While at Cal Poly, I secured internships with the Forest Service in Alaska and Oregon using soils to inform land management recommendations. Leveraging data gathered from the Oregon internship, and with the help of mentors, I participated in my first true research experience co-authoring a senior thesis on how forest management influenced soil properties. It was about that time I discovered this thing called graduate school where you get paid to learn and try to discover new things. How cool is that?!

I loved the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest, so I made my way to Oregon State University examining a long-term soil productivity experiment for a Masters Degree. Nearing graduation from that project, my adviser (Dr. Jeff Hatten) was awarded a grant analyzing soil carbon and organic matter using the newly created National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) that is expected to be in operation for the next thirty-years. As a consequence of luck and circumstance, I continued my academic career with Dr. Hatten through a soil science and forest management PhD program and completed my degree in Fall 2022.

It’s worth mentioning that soils hold 2-3 times more carbon than the atmosphere and aboveground plants combined, if us humans can increase soil carbon by just a tiny bit it could have globally-positive benefits. That fact is a major reason why I pursued graduate school, because I wanted to learn how soils can be a natural climate solution through changes in land management practices. But soils are so unique across ecosystems (even within a single hillside they can vary quite greatly) you need to study them individually before you can say anything about them as a whole. My PhD project looked at almost 40 representative ecosystems across North America and put soils through a battery of tests and analysis to try and learn their secrets. My experience with NEON had many collaborations that have produced over 12 peer-reviewed publications, so it’s tough to summarize in a paragraph. Briefly, we did find that soils can be a natural climate solution, but only if we can convince humans to change land management practices in perpetuity. Those human-time factors are far more difficult to predict than soils, so I’m personally weary of over promising the global potential of soils to mitigate our excess emissions. We can and should expect soils to provide us the basics: clothing, food, and clean water. As a professor once told me, without soils we’d be cold, hungry, and worse of all sober. Those are still plenty of reasons to appreciate soils!

While I’ve become deeply enamored by ecosystem sciences and terrestrial ecology, I may not remain in this field. I love understanding - on a biogeochemical level - how soils support global ecosystems, but I think the soil science field has too narrowly focused our attention and we’re missing the true impact of our knowledge. So instead, I hope to use what I’ve learned in my graduate studies and apply that to a more people-centered approach with an environmental justice framework. I’m actively searching for a future career where I can weave together my broad science knowledge from my academic life, science communication skills from my podcasting and blogging days, and my set of personal values. I don’t exactly know how to do that yet. One thing is for sure, I am determined to leave Earth - and especially its people - in better shape than when I entered it.


Adrian C. Gallo
Adrian C. Gallo
PhD, Instructor,
Researcher, He/Him

I’m trained as a terrestrial biogeochemist (aka I know a lot about dirt). As a future career I’m currently exploring science communication and climate change adaptation policy through an environmental justice framework. When not science-ing you can find me running, mountain biking, or playing soccer.