Do We Need to Increase Carbon Levels in Soil?
Most people understand that climate change is a growing and global concern. They also realize that no single solution will solve this massive problem. Progress will happen through an all-encompassing strategy that includes many options. One of them involves increasing carbon levels in soil through capture and sequestration techniques. In such cases, the idea is to prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere.
Soil as organic matter can store carbon for several decades. Also, carbonates can hold carbon for an impressive 70,000 years, making it a long-term potential solution. Scientists are exploring how to further capitalize on its potential. One study associated with soil in the United Kingdom involved adding rock dust. Their estimates showed this approach could take out between 6 and 30 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year by 2030.
Cropland Targeted in Carbon Sequestration Projects
Researchers have also learned about some variables that could make it more or less advantageous to capture carbon in the soil. Properly using it to grow crops is particularly beneficial in such projects. Statistics show cropland covers 10% of the Earth’s land.
Moreover, farmers can increase soil’s carbon-capture potential by growing certain crops on their land. For example, perennials develop deep roots that work well for capturing carbon. Cover crops planted after a main crop’s harvesting help carbon capture happen year-round. Often, such efforts occur in conjunction with other methods to combat climate change.
In South Africa, Lancewood is one of 40 dairy farms participating in the country’s first internationally certified carbon program. Its cows graze on specially selected plants that help preserve the soil’s nutrients while giving the bovines a nutritionally varied diet. Additionally, farmers at Lancewood have halved their nitrogen usage since 2018. Nitrogen is particularly worrisome since it can convert into nitrous oxide, a harmful greenhouse gas.
Research concerning the West African Sahel region also suggested that having farmers plant trees on their land would promote better carbon capture results. Studies indicated that having farmers create Sahelian parklands over the maximum possible amount of land would have dramatic effects. Those tree-filled lands would capture 2 billion tons more carbon dioxide than agricultural lands without trees.
Soil Type Impacts Sequestration Results
Climate change will likely have more effects than many people have fully grasped. Some farmers apply topical products to crops to protect them from sunburn and other types of heat stress. Farmers in the world’s well-known wine production regions say climate change has necessitated taking such protective measures, although it’s not the only factor.
Scientists have learned that climate change’s effects are particularly severe in certain regions, including the Middle East and the Mediterranean. However, getting the maximum results from trapping carbon in soil is not as straightforward as some people might hope.
One UC Davis study showed that the type of soil used in a carbon sequestration project significantly impacts the overall results. Conventional soils did not store or release very much carbon.
However, when farmers used compost and cover crops, the capture potential increased by about 0.7% annually. Moreover, using cover crops planted in conventional soil increased carbon sequestration 12 inches below the surface, but it can cause substantial carbon loss below that depth.
These specifics mean it’s necessary to keep learning about carbon sequestration and its potential, as well as which factors might be detrimental to its success or at least limit the effects.
Using Soil to Capture Carbon Is Worth Considering
It’ll take a gigantic, collective effort to make strides in fighting climate change. However, as the examples here show, increasing carbon levels in soil through sequestration could help make some of the progress the world needs.