12 July 2024
US Soil Carbon: Key to Climate Change Mitigation

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Understanding US Soil Carbon Content: A Key Player in Climate Change Mitigation

Soil is a crucial component of our environment, containing about twice as much carbon as the atmosphere and plants combined. This makes it a significant carbon sink, capable of absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it releases. Managing soil carbon is essential not only for mitigating climate change but also for maintaining soil health and agricultural productivity.

The Challenge of Measuring Soil Carbon

Measuring soil carbon content is a complex and expensive process. Traditional methods involve digging soil samples and sending them to laboratories for analysis, making it difficult to scale up measurements on a large spatial scale. However, environmental scientists have now developed a new approach that combines field-level data with machine-learning techniques to estimate soil organic carbon at the U.S. continental scale.

The Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences has published the new soil organic carbon estimate, which offers improved accuracy and provides valuable insights into the impact of environmental variables on soil organic carbon levels.

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The Significance of Soil Organic Carbon

Soil organic carbon is primarily composed of plant and animal matter in various stages of decomposition. While inorganic carbon is also present in the soil, organic carbon is the key driver of soil biology and quality. The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains the National Cooperative Soil Survey soil characterization database, which provides valuable data on soil composition gathered over decades.

International efforts, such as the International Soil Organic Carbon Network, aim to collect soil profiles from around the world to create estimates of soil characteristics. However, there have been inconsistencies in existing estimates of soil organic carbon within databases like the Harmonized World Soil Database and SoilGrids.

Advancements in Estimating US Soil Organic Carbon

To address these inconsistencies, researchers divided the United States into 20 regions and created machine-learning models for each region. By collecting nearly 50,000 soil samples and incorporating 36 environmental variables into their models, they were able to produce more accurate estimates of soil organic carbon compared to existing databases.

The new method not only improves estimates for the top 30 centimeters of soil, where biologically active organic carbon is concentrated but also reveals how environmental variables impact soil organic carbon levels differently across regions. Climate was identified as a common predictor in most regions, while factors like vegetation index and elevation played significant roles in specific geographical areas.

The researchers hope that their approach can be applied to other countries and continents with sufficient on-the-ground data to enhance global understanding of soil organic carbon dynamics. By providing more accurate baseline data, this new estimate contributes to improving Earth system models for climate change and guides policymakers and land managers in adopting climate-smart practices.

The study of US soil carbon content highlights the critical role of soil in the global carbon cycle and underscores the importance of sustainable soil management practices in addressing climate change challenges.

Links to additional Resources:

1. https://www.nrel.gov/news/program/2023/new-estimate-of-us-soil-organic-carbon-to-improve-earth-system-models.html 2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-023-05867-2 3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0038071723002381

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Soil carbon, Climate change mitigation, Earth system models

Soil carbon
Soil carbon is the solid carbon stored in global soils. This includes both soil organic matter and inorganic carbon as carbonate minerals. It is vital to the soil capacity in our ecosystem. Soil carbon is a carbon sink in regard to the global carbon cycle, playing a role in biogeochemistry,...
Read more: Soil carbon

Climate change mitigation
Climate change mitigation (or decarbonisation) is action to limit climate change. This action either reduces emissions of greenhouse gases or removes those gases from the atmosphere. The recent rise in global temperature is mostly due to emissions from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. There are...
Read more: Climate change mitigation

Earth system science
Earth system science (ESS) is the application of systems science to the Earth. In particular, it considers interactions and 'feedbacks', through material and energy fluxes, between the Earth's sub-systems' cycles, processes and "spheres"—atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, geosphere, pedosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and even the magnetosphere—as well as the impact of human societies...
Read more: Earth system science

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