Between 1843 and 1856, Sir John Lawes and Sir Henry Gilbert started several long-term field experiments at Rothamsted Research. Some failed or were discontinued because of poor soil structure and crop diseases. When Lawes died in 1900, the remaining experiments were continuing more or less as originally planned and are now known as the ‘Classical Experiments’ . They are the oldest, continuous agronomic experiments in the world and therefore rightfully and uniquely famous.
With remarkable prescience, Lawes and Gilbert retained samples of crops, soils, fertilisers and manures applied to the experiments. Successive generations of scientists at Rothamsted have continued to add to the collection and the resulting Sample Archive now comprises > 300,000 samples. This unique resource is of immense value. New analyses of archived material continue to provide insights into changes occurring over 170 years. No other long-term experiments have such an archive.
The Electronic Rothamsted Archive, e-RA , brings the data from the Classical and other long-term experiments, much of it originally in paper format, into an accessible and useable database.
The long-term data are not confined to the field experiments. Meteorological measurements have been made since the 1850s when Lawes and Gilbert first collected and analysed rainwater. With current concerns over climate change, the long-term weather records provide invaluable information about the climatic conditions under which the crops have been grown. These data now form part of the UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) which, together with the Long-Term experiments, Sample Archive and e-RA., comprise the ‘LTEs NCG’.
The LTEs NC is linked to similar experiments and platforms around the world via the ‘Long-Term Soil-Ecosystem Experiments Global Inventory’ (http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/ltse/) and the EU-funded ‘Distributed Infrastructure for EXPErimentation in Ecosystem Research (http://www.expeeronline.eu/)
The Capability has had a very wide range of uses such as the identification of sources of radioactive fallout, crop responses to nitrogen and other nutrients and fertiliser recommendations, the development and calibration of mathematical models such as the Roth-C model of the carbon cycle, used by more than 1400 scientists in 94 countries.
The use of the Long-term Experiments National Capability for both national and inter-national research collaborations is actively encouraged. It is recommended that those wishing to access the Long-term Experiments and/or Sample Archive for research purposes discuss their proposed work with a Rothamsted collaborator prior to submitting a completed sample request form. Potential Rothamsted collaborators are shown on the form.