Quantcast

Scientists Start to Look at Ground Beneath Their Feet for Solution to Climate Change

Climate

Climate scientists anxious to find ways to limit atmospheric greenhouse gases have started to look at the ground beneath their feet.

Four-fifths of annual emissions from fossil fuel combustion could be retained by soil.

Photo credit: Ron Nichols/NRCS / Flickr

They calculate that although the world’s soils already hold 2.4 trillion tonnes of gases in the form of organic carbon, there’s room for more.

Scientists from the U.S. and Scotland report in Nature journal that with a few changes to agricultural practice, there would be room for another 8 billion tonnes.

“In our fight to avoid dangerous climate change in the 21st century, we need heavyweight allies,” Dave Reay, a geoscientist and specialist in carbon management at Edinburgh University, said. “One of the most powerful is right beneath our feet. Soils are already huge stores of carbon, and improved management can make them even bigger."

Data Availability

“Too long they have been overlooked as a means to tackle climate change," Reay continued. "Too often have problems of accurate measurement and reporting stymied progress towards climate-smart soil management.

“With the surge in availability of big data on soils around the world, alongside rapid improvements in understanding and modeling, the time has come for this big-hitter to enter the ring.”

In fact, researchers have been conscious for years that the soils have a powerful role to play. They have identified the agencies that control a soil’s capacity for carbon. They have tested climate models to check on emissions from soils. They have experimented with techniques for conserving soil carbon. And they have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the stores of organic carbon in the permafrost.

In addition, they have established that man-made greenhouse gas releases coincide with the spread of global agriculture thousands of years ago. Land use, the scientists now calculate, accounts for perhaps a quarter of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and between 10 percent and 14 percent directly from agriculture.

But, they reason, since soils hold three times as much organic carbon as exists in carbon dioxide form in the atmosphere, better management of the terrestrial planet could help reduce emissions too.

So, the trick is: don’t degrade healthy ecosystems, because unmanaged forests and grasslands store carbon very efficiently. Wetlands drained for agriculture surrender their soil carbon, but restored wetlands soak the stuff up.

Agricultural Practices

And there is a range of sustainable agricultural practices that can conserve carbon and, at the same time, continue to deliver food to the table.

Farmers could grow crops with deeper root systems, use charcoal-based composts, and exploit a suite of more efficient practices tailored to their crops and terrain. Schemes such as Cool Farm Tool could help farmers measure and manage emissions from their own land.

There would not be one big answer, but a host of varied responses. These range from better crop rotation to low tillage as opposed to deep ploughing, and from land restoration to agroforestry. All of these added together—what the researchers call the “all-of-the-above” approach—could make a big difference.

With help from science, government policymakers and new approaches, ultimately they could help soils retain the equivalent of four-fifths of the emissions released each year by the combustion of fossil fuels, the researchers say.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

March 2016 Was Hottest on Record by Greatest Margin Yet Seen for Any Month

9 Ways Climate Change Is Making Us Sick

40 Students Arrested Demanding Their Schools Divest From Fossil Fuels

Organic Food, Not Just for Hippies Anymore: How the U.S. Is Dealing With Growing Demand

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Wesley Martinez Da Costa / EyeEm / Getty Images

By David R. Montgomery

Would it sound too good to be true if I was to say that there was a simple, profitable and underused agricultural method to help feed everybody, cool the planet, and revitalize rural America? I used to think so, until I started visiting farmers who are restoring fertility to their land, stashing a lot of carbon in their soil, and returning healthy profitability to family farms. Now I've come to see how restoring soil health would prove as good for farmers and rural economies as it would for the environment.

Read More Show Less
skaman306 / Moment / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Radish (Raphanus sativus) is a cruciferous vegetable that originated in Asia and Europe (1Trusted Source).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Tinnakorn Jorruang / iStock / Getty Images

By Dan Nosowitz

The budding research on cannabidiol, or CBD, attracts a great deal of interest in the agricultural field.

Read More Show Less
Oksana Khodakovskaia / iStock / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a tree native to China that's prized for its sweet, citrus-like fruit.

Read More Show Less

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new numbers that show vaping-related lung illnesses are continuing to grow across the country, as the number of fatalities has climbed to 33 and hospitalizations have reached 1,479 cases, according to a CDC update.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
During the summer, the Arctic tundra is usually a thriving habitat for mammals such as the Arctic fox. Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Reports of extreme snowfall in the Arctic might seem encouraging, given that the region is rapidly warming due to human-driven climate change. According to a new study, however, the snow could actually pose a major threat to the normal reproductive cycles of Arctic wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Vegan rice and garbanzo beans meals. Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.

Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.

Read More Show Less
A fracking well looms over a residential area of Liberty, Colorado on Aug. 19. WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

A new multiyear study found that people living or working within 2,000 feet, or nearly half a mile, of a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drill site may be at a heightened risk of exposure to benzene and other toxic chemicals, according to research released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)

Read More Show Less