Quantcast

Soil Management: Key to Fighting Climate Change?

Climate
Tilled soil on a farm in Oregon. Sarah H / Flickr

An important tool for mitigating climate change may lie beneath our feet—soil management could increase our ability to keep carbon out of the atmosphere, a new study shows.

A paper published last week in the journal Scientific Reports estimates that by altering land use practices, the top layer of soil around the globe could increase the amount of carbon stored anywhere from 0.9 to 1.85 billion metric tons per year—an amount that equals the transportation sector's carbon emissions.


"Analyses like this help us understand the importance of soil management for reaching climate goals. The question now is: how can we unlock this potential?" Deborah Bossio, one of the study's authors said in a statement.

Worldwide, scientists estimate that the earth's soil contains about 2.5 trillion tons of carbon in its top three-foot layer. Agricultural activity, depending on the type, could release large amounts of carbon by disturbing the soil. Almost 50 percent of all potentially vegetated land surface has been converted to croplands, pastures and rangelands. This in turn has contributed approximately 136 peta grams of carbon to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. For comparison, fossil fuel combustion has pumped an estimated 270 peta grams of carbon into the atmosphere, according to the study.

The good news is this study shows how land management practices are an opportunity to reverse that trend. Rotating crops, composting, zero tillage, cover cropping and agroforestry can increase soil's potential to keep carbon out of the atmosphere.

On a per hectare basis, South Asia and North Africa hold the greatest potential for land carbon storage, while areas with the greatest opportunity for implementation now are places that already have extensive soil management, such as the U.S.

"Regenerating soil organic carbon is a foundational strategy for conservation, through which we can provide food and water sustainably and help tackle climate change," Bassio said.

Despite this, soil management as a climate mitigation tool did not make it onto the official Bonn climate conference agenda, although it has been discussed in side events run by environmental groups.

"It's just not a high priority in terms of all the issues faced globally by agriculture," Jonathan Sanderman, a soil expert at the Woods Hole Research Center, told the Scientific American.

Improving food security, increasing crop yields and increasing the resilience of agriculture to the effects of climate change are the main discussion points among policy makers. However they tend to ignore the importance of land use management and what it can do to mitigate climate change.

"The beauty of carbon sequestration is if you improve your resource bases—your soil health, your soil fertility—it almost automatically comes with sequestration of carbon," said Rolf Sommer, one of the study's authors.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new fracking rig and a pumping rig stand beside a house Feb. 10, 2016 in an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma neighborhood. J Pat Carter / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Proximity to oil and gas sites makes pregnant mothers up to 70 percent more likely to give birth to a baby with congenital heart defects, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Yulia Lisitsa / iStock / Getty Images

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Many people follow the lacto-vegetarian diet for its flexibility and health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less

By Jared Kaufman

Eating a better diet has been linked with lower levels of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. But unfortunately 821 million people — about 1 in 9 worldwide — face hunger, and roughly 2 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, according to the U.N. World Health Organization. In addition, food insecurity is associated with even higher health care costs in the U.S., particularly among older people. To help direct worldwide focus toward solving these issues, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals call for the elimination of hunger, food insecurity and undernutrition by 2030.

Read More Show Less
Healthline

Made from the freshly sprouted leaves of Triticum aestivum, wheatgrass is known for its nutrient-dense and powerful antioxidant properties.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

mevans / E+ / Getty Images

The federal agency that manages the Great Barrier Reef issued an unprecedented statement that broke ranks with Australia's conservative government and called for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Guardian.

Read More Show Less

A powerful earthquake struck near Athens, Greece and shook the capital city for 15 seconds on Friday, causing people to run into the streets to escape the threat of falling buildings, NBC News reported.

Read More Show Less
U.S. government scientists concluded in a new report that last month was the hottest June on record. Angelo Juan Ramos / Flickr

By Jessica Corbett

As meteorologists warned Thursday that temperatures above 100°F are expected to impact two-thirds of the country this weekend, U.S. government scientists revealed that last month was the hottest June ever recorded — bolstering calls for radical global action on the climate emergency.

Read More Show Less