Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Tag Archive: soil

  1. California’s Healthy Soils Incentive Program- CalCAN update

    Leave a Comment

    CA Department of Food & Agriculture Finalizing Healthy Soils Program

    Posted by Brian Shobe, California Agriculture and Climate Network (CalCAN) May 22 2017

    As farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and abroad experience the reality of more extreme and unpredictable weather, soil carbon sequestration is catching national and international attention as a means of climate change mitigation and adaptation. California is poised to lead the way with its soon-to-be-launched Healthy Soils Incentives Program, the nation’s first program to directly incentivize farmers for adopting practices that improve soil health, sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions overall.

    According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) most recent proposed Healthy Soils program framework, farmers and ranchers will be eligible to apply for up to $50,000 to defray the costs of adopting healthy soils practices (pictured below) over the course of three years...

    …some proposed program details raised significant concerns … CDFA agreed to release the program’s draft request for proposal (RFP) for public comment and subsequent revision before officially launching the program….Below, we outline our recommendations for the proposed program framework.

    -Allow on-farm compost to be eligible for compost application…

    -Clarify how payments and payment timelines will work for different practices, as well as how that will affect the 3rd year matching fund requirement…

    -Simplify the application for applicant feasibility…

    -Require soil tests from award recipients, not applicants…

    -Reward applicants for conservation plans and matching funds, but not so much that it creates a structural disadvantage to limited-resource and small-scale farmers…

    -Shift the demonstration program back to its intended goal of expanding the impact and adoption of Healthy Soils practices

  2. Climate change solutions – the role of healthy soils

    Leave a Comment

    There’s too much carbon in the atmosphere and not enough in the ground where it’s useful. Healthy soil can help flip the picture.  Full article here

    May 17 2017 UC Davis via Washington Post

    …Scow—a microbial ecologist and director of this experimental farm at the University of California, Davis—sees a living being brimming with potential. The soil beneath this field doesn’t just hold living things—it is itself alive. Scow likens soil to the human body with its own system of “organs” working together for its overall health. And, like us, it needs good food, water and care to live up to its full potential...

    …Soil can potentially store between 1.5 and 5.5 billion tons of carbon a year globally. That’s equivalent to between 5 and 20 billion tons of carbon dioxide. While significant, that’s still just a fraction of the 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted every year from burning fossil fuels. Soil is just one of many solutions needed to confront climate change. But the nice thing about healthy soils, Scow said, is that creating them not only helps fight climate change—it also brings multiple benefits for agricultural, human and environmental health….

    there are more microbes in one teaspoon of soil than there are humans on Earth. Many of them lie dormant, just waiting to be properly fed and watered. A well-fed army of microbes can go to work strengthening the soil so it can grow more food, hold more water, break down pollutants, prevent erosion and, yes, sequester carbon….

    Soil sequesters carbon through a complex process that starts with photosynthesis. A plant draws carbon out of the atmosphere and returns to the soil what isn’t harvested in the form of residue and root secretions. This feeds microbes in the soil. The microbes transform the carbon into the building blocks of soil organic matter and help stabilize it, sequestering the carbon….

    …There’s too much carbon in the atmosphere and not enough in the ground where it can be used. A new effort in California aims to flip that picture. The state’s Healthy Soils Incentives Program is considered the first in the nation to provide state funding to help farmers and ranchers enhance their soils to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The $7.5 million program, expected to launch this summer, encourages farming practices known to boost microbial communities underground and sequester carbon….

    …Stone is as much a natural resources manager as a rancher, with a protective eye on the ranch’s watersheds, trees, pasture and grass-fed cattle, and a genuine desire to leave the land better than he found it. He rotates his cattle frequently across the pasture to avoid overgrazing. Most of the ranch—7,000 acres—is in a conservation easement. He avoids fertilizer. And, increasingly, he composts.

    ….California loses about 20,000 acres of rangeland each year, much of which become greenhouse-gas-emitting housing developments, shopping centers, roads and parking lots. The remaining 63 million acres of rangeland in the state—part of the 770 million acres nationwide—represent significant opportunities for additional carbon storage, and can help offset some of the emissions for which the meat industry is often criticized.

    Scientists estimate that U.S. rangelands could potentially sequester up to 330 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in their soils, and croplands are estimated to lock up more than twice that amount—up to 770 million metric tons. That’s the CO2 emissions equivalent of powering 114 million homes with electricity for a year.

    When you look at the cow, you think of emissions,” Stone said. “But the whole system is actually sequestering carbon. There are so many opportunities in agriculture to move the needle on climate change.”

  3. Can Meadows Rescue the Planet from CO2?

    Leave a Comment

    An unusual research project is determining whether restoring California’s meadows can reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide

    By Jane Braxton Little on May 11, 2017 Scientific American

    …Scientists and land managers are heading into the mountains to measure the greenhouse gas activity at 16 hand-picked meadows—some recently restored, others degraded from a century of grazing and logging.

    The four-year study is part of California’s pioneering effort to reduce carbon emissions. The project is designed to determine whether restored meadows hold more carbon than those that have been degraded. The outcome could prove pivotal for California and the planet. Worldwide, soils store three times more carbon than vegetation and the atmosphere combined. If the research shows restored meadows improve carbon storage, it could stimulate meadow restoration around the world….

    A December study published in Nature… found rising temperatures are stimulating a net loss of soil carbon to the atmosphere. Warmer soils accelerate the flux, sending more carbon into the ground and more carbon dioxide back out into the atmosphere. As warmth increases microbial activity, decomposition and respiration outpace photosynthesis, particularly in the world’s colder places. …” The changes could drive a carbon–climate feedback loop that could accelerate climate change.”…

    …The research covers meadows from the base of Lassen Peak in the north to areas nearer to Los Angeles. The meadows range in elevation from 3,045 to nearly 8,700 feet; they include granitic, volcanic and metamorphic soils. A critical facet of the partnership is developing precise procedures for when and how to measure and analyze meadow greenhouse gases.

    ……a limited study conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno (U.N.R.). Scientists collected soil samples at seven meadows in the northern Sierra restored between 2001 and 2016, pairing restored sites with similar, adjacent unrestored sites….found an average of 20 percent more soil carbon in restored meadows, with one site recording an increase of over 80 percent. Meadows immediately begin storing carbon following restoration, with significant increases over 15 years, says Cody Reed, a research assistant working with Ben Sullivan, a U.N.R. soil scientist and assistant professor. The investigation seems to show restored meadows add soil carbon and also slow losses to the atmosphere.

    …[In another study] they found surprised them: Carbon dioxide emissions were unaffected by soil moisture content, and methane sequestration was prevalent, particularly on the dry side of wet meadow. The 2014 study also found plant species richness and soil carbon concentration appeared more important than soil moisture in explaining carbon fluxes.

     

  4. Microscopic soil creatures could orchestrate massive tree ‘migrations

    Leave a Comment

    May 8, 2017 University of Tennessee at Knoxville  Full ScienceDaily Article Here

    Warming temperatures are prompting some tree species in the Rocky Mountains to ‘migrate’ to higher elevations in order to survive. Researchers have discovered that tiny below-ground organisms play a role in this phenomenon — and could be used to encourage tree migration in order to preserve heat-sensitive species. Their work shows how these invisible biotic communities create ‘soil highways’ for young trees, meaning they could determine how quickly species march uphill, if at all.

    The newfound role of the soil microbiome — the collection of microscopic bacteria, fungi and archaea that interact with plant roots — represents a turning point for research aimed at understanding and predicting where important tree species will reside in the future…

    …”we need to work with the trees near the bottom of the mountain, because they are the ones that will feel the most stress from warming temperatures,” Van Nuland said. “So we have to figure out a way to coax them to move up.” The research could help scientists design specific groups of bacteria and fungi to encourage the migration of trees threatened by warming climates….

  5. Oxygen-starved places such as marshes and in floodplains accumulate carbon

    Leave a Comment

    Shunned by microbes, organic carbon can resist breakdown in underground environments

    Posted: 01 May 2017 08:26 AM PDT

    Organic matter whose breakdown would yield only minimal energy for hungry microorganisms preferentially builds up in floodplains, illuminating a new mechanism of carbon sequestration, a new study reveals….

    …The soils and sediments beneath our feet can contain an astonishing amount of carbon — more than in all of the world’s plants and the atmosphere combined — and represents a significant potential source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

    In a new study, Stanford scientists have uncovered a previously unknown mechanism that explains why microbes sometimes fail to break down all the plant and animal matter, leaving carbon underfoot. Understanding where, and how long, this buried organic matter lingers is crucial for scientists and policymakers to better predict and respond to climate change.

    In oxygen-starved places such as marshes and in floodplains, microorganisms do not equally break down all of the available organic matter, the study shows. Instead, carbon compounds that do not provide enough energy to be worthwhile for microorganisms to degrade end up accumulating. This passed-over carbon, however, does not necessarily stay locked away below ground in the long run. Being water soluble, the carbon can seep into nearby oxygen-rich waterways, where microbes readily consume it.

    To date, models of local ecosystems and broader climate change have failed to take into account this newfound carbon preservation mechanism, having focused chiefly on microbial enzymes and the availability of other elements for organic matter breakdown.

    Kristin Boye, Vincent Noël, Malak M. Tfaily, Sharon E. Bone, Kenneth H. Williams, John R. Bargar, Scott Fendorf. Thermodynamically controlled preservation of organic carbon in floodplains. Nature Geoscience, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2940

  6. Are the Paris soil carbon sequestration goals unrealistic? Need nitrogen too

    Leave a Comment

    Posted: 21 Apr 2017 06:17 AM PDT  full article here

    The goal to offset rises in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations by increasing soil carbon storage by 4 per mille (0.4%) per year is unrealistic, say scientists in a new article.

    To store additional carbon in the soil, you need other nutrients, such as nitrogen. “You cannot build a house with only a pile of bricks but no mortar. Similarly, you cannot produce soil organic matter with only carbon,” explains Kees Jan van Groenigen, co-author of the paper and senior lecturer at the University of Exeter. “You need enormous amounts of nitrogen, and it is unclear where that nitrogen would come from. For example, to store the quantity of carbon mentioned in the 4p1000 goals, you would need extra nitrogen equivalent to 75% of current nitrogen fertilizer production, and for it to be in the right places. Practically speaking, that is just impossible.

    Does that mean that we should abandon the 4p1000 goals? “Absolutely not,” says Jan Willem van Groenigen: “Let’s not throw away the baby with the bathwater. The 4p1000 goals are a great inspiration to do everything we can as farmers, soil scientists, agronomists and policy makers to help fight global warming and at the same time improve our soils.” Instead, the authors appeal to the scientific community to think about the role of nutrients in reaching the 4p1000 goals. “For instance, this could mean that additional soil carbon should be stored in areas where nutrients are also available,” van Groenigen explains. “In other soils the best approach might be to focus on minimizing emissions of other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and methane.”

    Jan Willem van Groenigen, Chris van Kessel, Bruce A. Hungate, Oene Oenema, David S. Powlson, Kees Jan van Groenigen. Sequestering Soil Organic Carbon: A Nitrogen Dilemma. Environmental Science & Technology, 2017; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b01427

  7. Cover crops may be used to mitigate and adapt to climate change

    Leave a Comment
    April 17, 2017 Penn State see full ScienceDaily article here

    Cover crops long have been touted for their ability to reduce erosion, fix atmospheric nitrogen, reduce nitrogen leaching and improve soil health, but they also may play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change on agriculture.

    ..cover-crop effects on greenhouse-gas fluxes typically mitigate warming by 100-150 grams of carbon per square meter per year, which is comparable to, and perhaps higher than, mitigation from transitioning to no-till….significantly, the surface albedo change — the proportion of energy from sunlight reflecting off of farm fields due to cover cropping — … may mitigate 12 to 46 grams of carbon per square meter per year over a 100-year time horizon,” Kaye wrote.

    …”Farmers and policymakers can expect cover cropping simultaneously to benefit soil quality, water quality and climate-change adaptation and mitigation,” he wrote.

    “Overall, we found very few tradeoffs between cover cropping and climate-change mitigation and adaptation, suggesting that ecosystem services that are traditionally expected from cover cropping can be promoted synergistically with services related to climate change.”

    Jason P. Kaye, Miguel Quemada. Using cover crops to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 2017; 37 (1) DOI: 10.1007/s13593-016-0410-x

  8. Asian dust providing key nutrients for California’s giant sequoias

    Leave a Comment

    Posted: 28 Mar 2017 05:29 AM PDT ScienceDaily article here

    Dust from as far away as the Gobi Desert in Asia is providing more nutrients than previously thought for plants, including giant sequoias, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, a team of scientists have found. The scientists found that dust from the Gobi Desert and the Central Valley of California contributed more phosphorus for plants in the Sierra Nevadas than bedrock weathering, which is breaking down of rock buried beneath the soil. Phosophorus is one of the basic elements that plants need to survive, and the Sierra Nevadas are considered a phosphorus-limited ecosystem.

    The study may help scientists predict the impacts of climate change which is expected to increase drought and create more desert conditions around the world, possibly including California. If that happens, based on these findings, scientists expect a lot more dust moving in the atmosphere, and likely bringing phosphorus and important nutrients to far flung mountainous ecosystems….

    …The percentage of Asian dust ranged from 20 percent on average at the lowest elevation, to 45 percent on average at the highest elevation. The percentages were higher at the higher elevation sites because dust tends to travel high in the air stream and not fall unless it hits an object, such as a mountain. The researchers found that the amount of dust from Central Valley sources was greater at lower elevations compared to higher elevations. That was expected, but they also found that more Central Valley dust was entering higher elevations later in the dry season than just after the spring rains….

    …The researchers believe their findings will hold true for other mountainous ecosystems around the world and have implications for predicting forest response to changes in climate and land use.

    S. M. Aciego, C. S. Riebe, S. C. Hart, M. A. Blakowski, C. J. Carey, S. M. Aarons, N. C. Dove, J. K. Botthoff, K. W. W. Sims, E. L. Aronson. Dust outpaces bedrock in nutrient supply to montane forest ecosystems. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 14800 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14800

    Note: Co-author, Dr. Chelsea Carey, is Point Blue’s Soil Ecologist.

  9. Why Nature Restoration Takes Time

    Leave a Comment

    Eureka Alert  Feb 8 2017  see full article here

    Relationships’ in the soil become stronger during the process of nature restoration. Although all major groups of soil life are already present in former agricultural soils, they are not really ‘connected’ at first. These connections need time to (literally) grow, and fungi are the star performers here (via Eureka Alert).

    ….A large European research team discovered that when you try to restore nature on grasslands formerly used as agricultural fields, there is something missing. Lead author Elly Morriën from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology explains: “All the overarching, known groups of soil organisms are present from the start, but the links between them are missing. Because they don’t ‘socialise’, the community isn’t ready to support a diverse plant community yet.”…

    …”Fungi turn out to play a very important role in nature restoration, appearing to drive the development of new networks in the soil.” In agricultural soils, the thready fungal hyphae are severely reduced by ploughing for example, and therefore the undamaged soil bacteria have an advantage and rule here. The researchers studied a series of former agricultural fields that had changed use 6 to 30 years previously. With time, there is a strong increase in the role of fungi….

  10. 2016: A Good Year for State’s Trailblazing Climate & Agriculture Programs

    Leave a Comment

    reprinted from CalCAN  Jan 16 2017

    progress in 2016… highlights: