Dr Sami Ullah PhD, M.I. Soil Sci.

Dr Sami Ullah

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Senior Lecturer in Biogeochemistry and Physical Geography

Contact details

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Sami Ullah’s research is mainly focused on the biogeochemistry of nitrogen and its linkages to carbon and phosphorus cycling under global change in soils under forest, peatland/wetland, grassland, and agricultural crops. The impetus of his research is to advance mechanistic understanding of the response of key microbial functions such as denitrification, nitrogen and carbon mineralization, biological nitrogen fixation, greenhouse gas fluxes and soil enzyme activity to land-use and climate change at catchment scale.


  • PhD in Biogeochemistry, Louisiana State University, USA (2001-05)
  • MSc in Wetland Science and Management, Louisiana State University, USA (1999-2001)


01/2017 – Senior Lecturer in Biogeochemistry and Physical Geography, Department of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Birmingham Institute for Forest Research, University of Birmingham. 

2011-16 – Lecturer in Biogeochemistry, School of Geography, Geology and Environment, University of Keele, UK. 

2009-11 – Senior Researcher at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK. 

2006-09 – Postdoctoral Fellow within the Department of Geography and Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre, McGill University, Canada. 

2007-08 – Part Time Teaching Faculty at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. 

2005-06 – Postdoctoral Researcher at Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey, USA.

2001-05 – PhD in Biogeochemistry, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA. 

1999- 2001 – MS in Wetland Science and Management, Louisiana State University, USA. 

1996-1999 – Conservation Officer, WWF-Pakistan. 

1993-96 – MSc in Environmental Sciences, University of Peshawar, Pakistan (Gold Medallist). 

1990-92 – BSc in Botany, Zoology and Geography, Postgraduate Janhanzeb College, Swat.


Dr Ullah is involved in teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level in the broader areas of environmental chemistry, analytical methods and field research, physical geography and environmental management.

Postgraduate supervision

I am always on the look out for good quality national and international postgraduate students. You are encouraged to contact me if interested in working in the broader thematic areas of environmental science, biogeochemistry,  restoration ecology and pollution control. Prospective students should also follow the link for available studentships within the Doctoral Training Centers of the school and for general information on applying for postgraduate studies in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. 

Current and past PhD students: 

  • Mr Ernesto Saiz Val, PhD (2015-), working on Biological N fixation in peatbog mosses with Dr Falko Drijfhout, Department of Chemistry, Keele University.
  • Mr Tolulope Fayose, PhD (2013-), ISE sensors for mineral N in environment with Dr Aleks Radu, Department of Chemistry, Keele University.
  • Mrs Saumu Mwasha (2016-), Small holder farmlands adaptation to climate change in Tanzania with Dr Zoe Robinson, Keele University
  • Miss Sophie Comer (2014- ), Groundwater-surface water interactions and C biogeochemistry with Prof. Stefan Krause, University of Birmingham
  • Mr Paul Romeijn (2014 - ), Greenhouse gas production in riverine sediments with Prof. Stefan Krause, University of Birmingham
  • Dr John Weatheril (2010-2014), Fate and reactivity of TCE under oxic and anoxic conditions in riverine sediments with Prof. Nigel Cassidy and Prof. Stefan Krause, University of Birmingham.

Postdoctoral Research Fellows: 

  • Dr Jaan Parn (2016- 2018), Postdoctoral Researcher in Biogeochemistry working on ‘Source partitioning of greenhouse gas production and consumption processes in global peatlands and their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions’. Funded by the Estonian Research Council in collaboration of Prof. Ulo Mander at the University of Tartu, Estonia.
  • Dr Fotis Sgouridis (2012-2015), Postdoctoral Fellow in N Biogeochemistry. Worked on a NERC Macronutrient Cycling Consortium grant with a focus on in situ denitrification and greenhouse gas fluxes from natural and semi-natural terrestrial ecosystems in Britain. Currently at the University of Bristol.


Dr S Ullah is a soil scientist with an interest in the biogeochemical transformations of nitrogen (N) and its linkages to carbon and phosphorus cycling under global change in complex landscapes including forest, peatland/wetland, grassland and cultivated soils. The impetus is to advance mechanistic understanding of the response of key biogeochemical functions in soils (e.g. denitrification, N & C mineralization, biological nitrogen fixation, greenhouse gas fluxes and soil enzyme activity) to land-use and global change at catchment scale. This is critical for identifying management actions for functional resilience of natural ecosystems and agricultural sustainability. 

His research is underpinned by the development and application of novel analytical field techniques including stable isotopes and high-resolution sensor technologies to explore novel relationships between nutrient cycling, plant-microbe interaction and environmental conditions. This knowledge supports the development of new conceptual frameworks and feeds into dynamic ecosystems models for a more realistic assessment of the threshold of biogeochemical functional breakdowns under perturbations; and identification of techniques for sustainable utilization of natural resources, ecosystem restoration, food security and protection of environmental quality. My research cut-across the following themes in biogeochemistry:

  • Greenhouse Gas Fluxes and Global Climate Change: Terrestrial forest and wetland soils in watersheds as well as cultivated soils are significant sinks of atmospheric carbon and play a substantial role in greenhouse gas exchanges with the atmosphere. Local to global scale changes in land use types and management, excessive fertilizer use in agriculture and human-induced changes in the climate have shifted the interactive controls of various biotic and abiotic controls of methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide fluxes with the atmosphere. A detailed understanding of both landscape scale and plot scale controls of C sequestration and greenhouse gas fluxes from soils in sub-tropical, temperate and boreal climates makes part of Dr Ullah’s research for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from natural and semi-natural and agricultural ecosystems. Key biogeochemical processes that responsible for greenhouse gas production and consumption in soils such as denitrification, nitrification, microbial respiration, methanogenesis and methanotrophy are investigated using novel in situ techniques and stable isotopes for fingerprinting the sources and rates of greenhouse gas production. 
  • Land Use, Soil Fertility and Protection of Water quality: Agricultural intensification, excessive fertilizer use, rising food demands and urbanization are often associated with nutrient/pollutant loss into surface and groundwater. Loss of nutrients such as mineral and dissolved organic N and phosphorus (P) from croplands and urban land uses cascading from soils into surface and groundwater results in the degradation of water quality such as eutrophication and hypoxia. Given the significance of maintaining food productivity for human consumption, Dr Ullah’s research identifies soil and landscape management practices that reduces loss of nutrients from soil into water and improves nutrient use efficiency in crop production systems.
  • Restoration Ecology: A tremendous loss of natural wetlands in watersheds mainly due to cultivation and urbanization has in turn led to a significant loss in wetland ecosystem functions and services. There is particular interest to restore wetlands in watersheds in a way that could render key functions of wetlands and services such as carbon sequestration and attenuation of pollutant run-off from cultivation and urban environments beside provision of habitat to wildlife, flood control and groundwater recharge. Dr Ullah’s research explores and identifies restoration techniques that could help recover multiple functional attributes of wetlands within the context of enhanced environmental quality. 

Current and Recent Research Projects 

  • Newton Fund-Institutional Link Project 'Towards Precision Agriculture' (£75,000; 2017-2019). Project team includes Drs A. Raud and E. de Quincey, Keele University, Sami Ullah, University of Birmingham and Prof P. Thavarangkul at the Prince of Songkla University, Thailand. Project focused on prototype ISE sensor development for mineral N sensing in soils, soil fertility and greenhouse gas fluxes from cultivated soils using 15N tracers (April, 2017- March, 2019).
  • Estonian Research Council (2016-2018). The Estonian Research Council funded a two year Postdoctoral Fellowship for a project on ‘Greenhouse Gas Fluxes from Global Peatlands’ (€76,000). Dr Jaan Pärn, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biogeochemistry is leading and executing the project. Experiments underway to elucidate the relative magnitudes of microbial processes (i.e. denitrification, nitrification, methanogensis, etc.) that are mainly responsible for greenhouse gas production and consumption in global peatlands.
  • Santander Research Grant, 2016. A research support grant (£3000) awarded to Drs Sami Ullah and Aleksandar Radu to visit Sao Paolo State University and University de Campinas in Brazil to create a framework for research collaboration in nitrogen biogeochemistry and analytical environmental chemistry. Follow up grant writing is now underway as part of this funding.
  • 2015-2016. Royal Society, UK. Respiratory reduction of nitrous oxide: Is it coupled to biological nitrogen fixation in peatbogs? (£6,266). This research is evaluating the presence and extent of N2O reduction coupled to N2 fixation in bulk peatbog samples, which is an unexplored pathway of N2O consumption in peatbogs. Exciting data currently analyzed for publications and presentations.
  • October 2015-2017. UK Natural Environment Research Council’s in-kind grant for 15N analysis in peat moss species at the NERC’s Life Science MS Facility at Lancaster (£3,240) in collaboration of Dr Andrew Stott, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster. This funding contributes to the project on measuring the impact of atmospheric reactive nitrogen deposition upon biological nitrogen fixation in peatbogs.
  • September 2015-2018, PhD studentship funded by the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Keele University with an in-kind analytical support from the NERC’s Stable Isotope Facility at Lancaster (£45,692) and the British Byrological Society (£750). The project is focused on investigating the effects of increased atmospheric reactive nitrogen deposition upon rates of biological nitrogen fixation in peatbogs in Britain.
  • October 2012-2015. Analysis and simulation of the Long-Term/Large-Scale interactions of C, N and P in UK land, freshwater and atmosphere, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council for investigation of the role of land use type and landscape position on  in situ denitrification rates, greenhouse gas fluxes and N2O source portioning in the Conwy and Ribble-Wyre River catchments, UK (£396,942 @100% FEC) as part of £2.5 million consortium grant involving 8 national institutes (consortium led by E. Tipping at CEH Lancaster).  Forests (deciduous and mixed), organic soils (peatland, heathland and acid grassland) and intensive and extensive grasslands soils were included in this extensive field-based investigation of in situ microbial N transformation processes in response to land management and global change.  The detailed field experiments were undertaken by Dr Fotis Sgouridis as a PDRA on the project (now at the University of Bristol). For details about the project outputs, please, read the paper here (Sgouridis F and Ullah S. 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017).For further details of the overall consortium project, please, visit https://wiki.ceh.ac.uk/display/ltls/Home
  • January 2014-2017. A PhD project on developing low-cost disposable Ion Selective Electrodes (ISE) for nitrate and ammonium measurement in environmental samples (£48,000). The project is jointly supervised with Dr Aleksandar Radu in Chemistry at Keele University. Environmental media samples range from soils, slurry, compost to fresh and saline water.
  • Summer 2014. Royal Society of Chemistry and Nuffield Foundation for a project on the characterization and comparison of soil organic carbon quality indices including SUVA, aromaticity, permanganate oxidizable carbon, total organic carbon and microbial respiration (£1440).
  • Summer 2014. European Regional Development Fund Project (ERDF) for a consultancy project on nutrient inventory (nitrate & ammonium gradient in relation to C:N ratio and oxic conditions) in cattle slurry (£3,000).
  • July 2013. Analytical Chemistry Trust Fund for a project on dissimilatory nitrate reduction in soil: development of the microdiffusion-hypobromite oxidation technique for determining 15N isotope in NH4+ in different soil types (£1,440 with PI Dr F. Sgouridis).
  • October 2013. British Society of Soil Science, UK for the purchase of a portable soil science testing kit for teaching field environmental assessment skills (£700).

View Dr Sami Ullah's research pages

Other activities

  • Associate Editor, Soil Use and Management Journal
  • Member, NERCs Peer Review College, RCUK.
  • Chair, Midlands Soil Discussion Group, UK
  • Council Member, British Society of Soil Science
  • Member, Grants Committee, British Society of Soil Science
  • Member, American Geophysical Union
  • Member European Geoscience Union
  • Adjunct Professor, Department of Geography, McGill University (2011-14)
  • Fulbright Scholar, USIS at Louisiana State University, USA (1999-2001)
  • Grant reviewer and panel member for various national and international funding agencies (UK, Austria, EU, and USA).


  • Comer-warner S, P. Romeijn, D. Gooddy,  S. Ullah, N. Kettridge,  B. Marchant, D. Hannah , S. Krause. 2018. Thermal sensitivity of CO2 and CH4 emissions varies with streambed sediment propertiesNature Communications (Accepted).
  • Jaan Parn, Jos Verhoeven, Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, Nancy Dise, Sami Ullah, Anto Aasa, Sergey Egorov, Mikk Espenberg, Järvi Järveoja, Jyrki Jauhiainen, Kuno Kasak, Leif Klemedtsson, Ain Kull, Fatima Laggoun-Défarge, Elena Lapshina, Annalea Lohila, Krista Lõhmus, Martin Maddison, William Mitsch, Christoph Müller, Ülo Niinemets, Bruce Osborne, Taavi Pae, Jüri-Ott Salm, Fotis Sgouridis, Kristina Sohar, Kaido Soosaar, Kathryn Storey, Alar Teemusk, Moses Tenywa, Julien Tournebize, Jaak Truu, Gert Veber, Jorge Villa, Seint Zaw, and Ülo Mander. 2018. Nitrogen-rich organic soils under warm well-drained conditions are global nitrous oxide emission hotspotsNature Communications, 9:11, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-03540-1
  • Weatherill JJ., S Atashgahi, U Schneidewind, S Krause, S Ullah, N Cassidy and MO Rivett. 2017. Natural attenuation of chlorinated ethenes in hyporheic zones: a review of key biogeochemical processes and in-situ transformation potential. Water Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2017.10.059
  • Sgouridis, F, and S. Ullah. 2017. Soil greenhouse gas fluxes, environmental controls and the partitioning of N2O sources in UK natural and semi-natural land use types. Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences, doi: 10.1002/2017JG003783
  • Fayose T,  Mendecki L,  S.Ullah and Aleksandar Radu. 2017.Single strip solid contact ion selective electrodes on pencil-drawn electrode substrate. RSC-ANALYTICAL METHODS, DOI: 10.1039/C6AY02860H
  • Sgouridis F, Stott A, Ullah S. 2016. Application of the 15N gas-flux method for measuring in situ N2 and N2O fluxes due to denitrification in natural and semi-natural terrestrial ecosystems and comparison with the acetylene inhibition technique. BIOGEOSCIENCES, vol. 13, 1821-1835. doi> link>
  • Fotis Sgouridis and Sami Ullah. 2015. The relative magnitude and controls of in situ N2 and N2O fluxes due to denitrification in natural and semi-natural terrestrial ecosystems using 15N tracers. ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY 49(24), 14110-14119. DOI; 10.1021/acs.est.5b03513
  • Youngil Kim, Sami Ullah, N. T. Roulet, Tim R. Moore. 2015. Effect of inundation, oxygen and temperature on carbon mineralization in boreal ecosystems. Science of the Total Environment, vol. 511, 381-392. doi>
  • Peichl M, Arain AM, Moore TR, Brodeur JJ, Khomik M, Ullah S, Restrepo-Coupe N, McLaren J, Pejam MR. 2014. Carbon and greenhouse gas balances in an age sequence of temperate pine plantations. BIOGEOSCIENCES, vol. 11(19), 5399-5410. link> doi>
  • Patrick Byrne, Hao Zhang, Sami Ullah, Andy Binley, Louise Heathwaite, Catherine Heppell, Katrina Lansdown, and Mark Trimmer. 2014. Diffusive equilibrium in thin-films (DET) provides evidence of suppression of hyporheic exchange and large-scale nitrate transformation in a groundwater-fed river. HYDROLOGICAL PROCESSES, 29(6), 1385-1396. doi>
  • Sgouridis F and Ullah S. 2014. Denitrification potential of organic, forest and grassland soils in the Ribble-Wyre and Conwy River catchments, UK. ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE-PROCESSES & IMPACTS, vol. 16(7), 1551-1562. link> doi>
  • Youngil Kim, Sami Ullah, Tim R Moore, Nigel T Roulet. 2014. Dissolved organic carbon and total dissolved nitrogen production by boreal soils and litter: the role of flooding, oxygen concentration, and temperature. BIOGEOCHEMISTRY, vol. 118, 35-48. doi> link>
  • Lansdown K, Heppell CM, Dossena M, Ullah S, Heathwaite AL, Binley A, Zhang H, Trimmer M. 2014. Fine-Scale in Situ Measurement of Riverbed Nitrate Production and Consumption in an Armored Permeable Riverbed. ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, vol. 48(8), 4425-4434. link> doi>
  • Sami Ullah, H.Zhang, A. L. Heathwaite, C.M. Heppell, K. Lansdown, A. Binley, M. Trimmer. 2014. Influence of emergent vegetation on nitrate cycling in sediments of a groundwater-fed river. BIOGEOCHEMISTRY, vol. 118, 121-134. doi>
  • C. M. Heppell,, A. L. Heathwaite, A. Binley, P. Byrne, S.Ullah, K. Lansdown, P. Keenan, M. Trimmer, H. Zhang. 2013. Interpreting spatial patterns in redox and coupled water–nitrogen fluxes in the streambed of a gaining river reach. BIOGEOCHEMISTRY, vol. 117, 491-509. doi> link>
  • Byrne, P., A. Binley, A. L. Heathwaite, S.Ullah, C. M. Heppell, K. Lansdown, H. Zhang, M. Trimmer, and P. Keenan. 2013. Control of River Stage on the Reactive Chemistry of the Hyporheic Zone. HYDROLOGICAL PROCESSES, 28: 4766-4779, doi> link>
  • Binley, A, S.Ullah, A. L. Heathwait, C. M. Heppell, P. Byrne, K. Lansdown, M. Trimmer, and H. Zhang. 2013. Revealing the spatial variability of water fluxes at the groundwater-surface water interface. WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH 49: 3978-3992.
  • Ullah, S., H. Zhang, A. L. Heathwaite, A. Binley, K. Lansdown, C. M. Heppell, and M. Trimmer. 2012. In situ measurement of redox sensitive solutes at a high spatial resolution in riverbed sediments using Diffusive Equilibrium in Thin films. ECOLOGICAL ENGINEERING49: 18-26.
  • Byrne P, Zhang H, Heathwaite AL, Binley A, Ullah S, Kaiser D, Heppell CM, Lansdown K, Trimmer M. 2013. Passive pore water sampling provides evidence of suppression of hyporheic exchange and nitrate transformation in a groundwater-fed river.Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Environmental Science and Technology.
  • Lansdown K, Trimmer M, Heppell CM, Sgouridis F, Ullah S, Heathwaite AL, Binley A, Zhang H. 2012. Characterization of the key pathways of dissimilatory nitrate reduction and their response to complex organic substrates in hyporheic sediments. LIMNOLOGY AND OCEANOGRAPHY: 57, 387-400.
  • Ullah, S. and T.R. Moore: 2011. Biogeochemical controls on methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide fluxes from deciduous forest soils, eastern Canada. JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-BIOGEOSCIENCES  116, G03010.
  • Frasier, R., S.Ullah and T. R. Moore. 2010.  Nitrous oxide consumption potentials of well drained forest soils in southern Quebec. GEOMICROBIOLOGY JOURNAL 27: 53-60.
  • Peichl, M, M. A. Arain, S.Ullah and T. R. Moore. 2010. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide exchanges in an age-sequence of temperate pine forests. GLOBAL CHANGE BIOLOGY 16: 2198-2212.
  • Ullah, S., and T. R. Moore. 2009. Soil drainage and vegetation control of nitrogen transformation in forest soils, southern Quebec. JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-BIOGEOSCIENCES 114, G01014, doi:10.1029/2008JG000824.
  • Ullah S and Moore.  2009. Topographic controls of methane and nitrous oxide fluxes from soils in eastern Canada.Integrated Land-Ecosystem Atmosphere Process Study-iLEAPS 7: 30-32 (http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/31473/1/ILEAPS_newsletter.pdf)
  • Ullah, S., R. Frasier, L. Pelletier, and T. R. Moore. 2009. Greenhouse gas fluxes from boreal forest soils during the snow-free period, Quebec. CANADIAN JOURNAL OF  FOREST RESEARCH. 39:666-680.
  • Ullah, S., R. Frasier, L. King, N. Picotte-Anderson and T. R. Moore. 2008. Potential fluxes of N2O and CH4 from three forests type soils in eastern Canada. SOIL BIOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY40:986-994.
  • Ullah, S and S. P. Faulkner. 2006. Use of cotton gin trash to enhance denitrification in restored forested wetlands. FOREST ECOLOGY AND MANAGEMENT 237: 557-563.
  • Ullah, S. andG. M. Zinati. 2006. Denitrification and nitrous oxide emissions from riparian forests soils exposed to prolonged nitrogen run-off. BIOGEOCHEMISTRY 81:253-267.
  • Ullah, S. and S. P. Faulkner. 2006. Denitrification potential of different land-use types in an agricultural watershed, Lower Mississippi Valley. ECOLOGICAL ENGINEERING 28: 131-140.
  • Ullah, S. and S. P. Faulkner.  2006. Functional assessment of urban forested wetlands. PROC. PAK. ACAD. SCI. J. 43: 15-28.
  • Ullah, S., G.A Breitenbeck and S.P. Faulkner. 2005. Denitrification and N2O emission from forested and cultivated alluvial clay soil. BIOGEOCHEMISTRY 73: 499-513.


  • Ullah, S.  and Radu. 2016. The pro and cons of group work assessment in problem-based learning environments. J. Academic Development and Education, Keele 5: 9-16
  • Robinson, Z., A. G. Cage, K. Szkornik, A. Haffenden, I. Oliver, I. Stimpson, K.J. Stott, S.Ullah, R.I. Waller. 2016. The Rise and fall of Collaboration: Reflections on the benefits, challenges and lessons learned from a joint England-China teaching initiative. J. Academic Development and Education, Keele 7: 32-55.
  • Ullah S,. A Radu and F. Sgouridis. 2015. Summer research experience: perspectives of undergraduate students. The Auger, pp 8-9, Newsletter of the British Soc of Soil Sci.
  • Szkornik, K., Cage, A.G., Oliver, I., Robinson, Z.P., Stimpson, I., Stott, K.J., Ullah, S. and Waller, R.I. 2015. Preparing international students for the diversity of assessment in UK Higher Education. PedRio Special Publication: Inclusive Assessment in Practice, Pedagogic Research Observatory, University of Plymouth: 37-42

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