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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Climate solution in soil? Soil holds potential to slow global warming, researchers find

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October 5, 2017 Stanford University read full ScienceDaily article here

If you want to do something about global warming, look under your feet. Managed well, soil’s ability to trap carbon dioxide is potentially much greater than previously estimated, according to Stanford researchers who claim the resource could “significantly” offset increasing global emissions. They call for a reversal of federal cutbacks to related research programs to learn more about this valuable resource.

The work, published in two overlapping studies Oct. 5 in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics and Global Change Biology, emphasizes the need for more research into how soil — if managed well — could mitigate a rapidly changing climate.

Organic matter in soil, such as decomposing plant and animal residues, stores more carbon than do plants and the atmosphere combined. Unfortunately, the carbon in soil has been widely lost or degraded through land use changes and unsustainable forest and agricultural practices, fires, nitrogen deposition and other human activities. The greatest near-term threat comes from thawing permafrost in Earth’s northern reaches, which could release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Improving how the land is managed could increase soil’s carbon storage enough to offset future carbon emissions from thawing permafrost, the researchers find. Among the possible approaches: reduced tillage, year-round livestock forage and compost application. Planting more perennial crops, instead of annuals, could store more carbon and to reduce erosion by allowing roots to reach deeper into the ground….

….”Dirt is not exciting to most people,” said earth system science professor Rob Jackson, lead author of the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics article and coauthor of the Global Change Biology paper. “But it is a no-risk climate solution with big cobenefits. Fostering soil health protects food security and builds resilience to droughts, floods and urbanization.”

….Jackson, Harden and their colleagues call for a renewed push to gather significantly more data on carbon in the soil and learn more about the role it plays in sequestering carbon. They envision an open, shared network for use by farmers, ranchers and other land managers as well as policymakers and organizations that need good data to inform land investments and conservation.

If we lose momentum on carbon research, it will stifle our momentum for solving both climate and land sustainability problems,” Harden said.

Robert B. Jackson, Kate Lajtha, Susan E. Crow, Gustaf Hugelius, Marc G. Kramer, Gervasio Piñeiro. The Ecology of Soil Carbon: Pools, Vulnerabilities, and Biotic and Abiotic Controls. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 2014; 48 (1) DOI: 10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-112414-054234

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