Digging Deep for a Climate Change Reversal

Public News Service VANCOUVER, Wash. -- A pivotal tool for fighting climate change could be hiding deep below our feet.

Researchers have found soil holds more than three-times as much carbon as the atmosphere, and that minerals deep in the dirt are key to its storage. With better land management, they say, this capacity could be used to reverse the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Marc Kramer, a researcher at Washington State University Vancouver, has been studying farming practices that increase carbon sequestration. He said when a technique involving the rotational grazing of cattle was used, the soil began to stash away carbon - and it quickly started to resemble native forest soils from before heavy land development.

"What we found is that intensive grazing dairy activities in Southeast Georgia were able to restore organic matter content to pre-European levels in as little as six years," Kramer said.

Kramer and his colleagues at Oregon State University, Stanford University, and other institutions found that over half the planet's carbon is stored more than a foot below the earth's surface. They published these findings in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics.

The scientists said land cultivation has decreased carbon in the soil by one-half to two-thirds. But Kramer said if the trend moves in the opposite direction, dirt could do some of the heavy lifting in fighting climate change.

"It's not an unreasonable expectation that given the right management activities, we could retain quite a bit more carbon in the soil and potentially offset the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," he said.

Kramer said carbon forms strong bonds with minerals in the soil, especially three feet and deeper beneath the surface. And is likely able to fix the carbon there for a long time.

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