Climate scientists eager to find ways to limit greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have begun to look at the ground under his feet.
They calculated that while the world’s soils already have 2.4 billion tons of gases in the form of organic carbon, there is no room for more.
Scientists at the US report and Scotland in the journal Nature that with some changes in agricultural practices, no room for another 8 million tons.
“In our struggle to avoid dangerous climate change in the 21st century, we need allies heavyweight,” says Dave Reay, a geoscientist and specialist in carbon management at the University of Edinburgh. “One of the most powerful is just below our feet. The floors are already huge carbon deposits, and better management can make them even bigger.
“Too long they have been overlooked as a means to combat climate change. Too often have trouble measuring and accurate reports hampered progress towards climate-smart land management.
“With the increased availability of large data in soils around the world, along with rapid improvements in understanding and modeling, it is time for this big hit to enter the ring.”
In fact, researchers have been aware for years that soils have an important role to play. They have been identified agencies that control the ability of a soil to carbon. They have proven climate models to test soil emissions. They have experimented with techniques for conserving soil carbon. And they have sounded the alarm on deposits of organic carbon in the permafrost repeatedly.
They have also established that emissions of greenhouse gases of human origin coincide with the spread of agriculture thousands of years worldwide. Land use, scientists estimate now represents perhaps a quarter of all emissions of greenhouse gases of human origin and between 10% and 14% directly from agriculture.
However, they reason, since soils are three times more organic carbon as exists in the form of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, better management of terrestrial planet could help reduce emissions as well.
Therefore, the trick is not healthy ecosystems, and unmanaged forests and grasslands store carbon very efficiently degrade. Desiccated marshes for agriculture deliver their soil carbon, but restored wetlands soak stuff up.
And there are a number of sustainable agricultural practices that can conserve carbon and at the same time, continue to provide food to the table.
Farmers could produce crops with deep root systems, use compost-based charcoal, and exploit a set of more efficient practices adapted to their crops and land. Schemes like ‘Cool Tool farming’ could help farmers measure and manage emissions from its own land.
There would be a great answer, but a lot of mixed responses. These range from better crop rotation for minimum tillage compared to plow deep and restoration of land to agro-forestry. They all add up – what researchers call the approach of “all-of-the-above” – could make a big difference.
With the help of science, government authorities and new approaches, ultimately, could help retain soil equivalent to four-fifths of emissions released each year by the burning of fossil fuels, the researchers say.