Earth soils may curb global warming, thanks to its amazing ability of naturally locking greenhouse gases.
Farm soils play a crucial role in terrestrial ecosystems in terms of providing food and fiber. However, it also has an often overlooked quality, which is curbing increased environmental temperatures by isolating carbon and lessening greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, scientists are looking at this benefit of soil to contribute a solution to climate change.
Earth Soil: The Wonder Dirt
At present, the atmosphere holds approximately 830 petagrams (one trillion kilograms) of carbon. Every year, humans add about 10 petagrams through the use of fossil fuel-burning vehicles and production of agricultural wastes, among others.
Soils are bigger than the atmosphere in this sense because they are able to contain approximately 4,800 petagrams of carbon, which is six times more than what the atmosphere can hold. Fortunately, that does not stop there as soils can take in more.
"We can substantially reduce atmospheric carbon by using soil," says co-author Johannes Lehmann from Cornell University. He adds that experts can now use a technology that can help begin the practice of soil management to decrease greenhouse gases.
How Can Soil Lock Greenhouse Gases?
The key is to strengthen the soil-nitrogen cycle, which consists of different processes to ensure that nitrogen, a substance essential to plant growth, is balanced. This is possible by reducing greenhouse gases, limiting carbon and employing good agricultural practices.
The resulting effects of these interventions include having improved soil fertility, enhanced crop productivity, better biodiversity, as well as decreased water pollution and erosion. Aside from that, these practices may also shield crop systems from the effects of climate change.
An example of a mitigation approach is to avoid destruction of native ecosystems and maintain marginal land to enduring forests or grasslands.
Specific practices include decreasing tillage, enhancing grazing supervision, applying biochar, introducing cover crops and giving vegetation for inactive production lands.
Not All About Science
As scientific as the concept may be, it is not all about science. The authors think realizing the benefits of soil management to global warming entails a combination of political, socioeconomic and cultural understandings.
Although farmers and land operators can employ methods that can lock up greenhouse gases in soils, stakeholders must also be included in the game plan, particularly educating them about the most suitable approach for their individual situations.
The study was published in the journal Nature on April 6.