Countering Climate Change with Soil

Climate scientists anxious to find ways to limit atmospheric greenhouse gases have started to look at the ground beneath their feet.

They calculate that although the world’s soils already hold 2.4 trillion tonnes of gases in the form of organic carbon, there’s room for more.

Scientists from the U.S. and Scotland report in Nature journal that with a few changes to agricultural practice, there would be room for another 8 billion tonnes.

“In our fight to avoid dangerous climate change in the 21st century, we need heavyweight allies,” Dave Reay, a geoscientist and specialist in carbon management at Edinburgh University, said. “One of the most powerful is right beneath our feet. Soils are already huge stores of carbon, and improved management can make them even bigger.”

Farmers could grow crops with deeper root systems, use charcoal-based composts, and exploit a suite of more efficient practices tailored to their crops and terrain. Schemes such as Cool Farm Tool could help farmers measure and manage emissions from their own land.

There would not be one big answer, but a host of varied responses. These range from better crop rotation to low tillage as opposed to deep ploughing, and from land restoration to agroforestry. All of these added together—what the researchers call the “all-of-the-above” approach—could make a big difference.

NRCS Soil Health